One of the blessings of living in a house with seventy other priests is the ease with which you can learn the condition of various parts of the city of Rome, as was done when I was told that the lines to enter through the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Peter was quite small and almost unnoticeable on Wednesday. With this knowledge I decided to pass through the Holy Door yesterday afternoon.
The organizers of the Jubilee of Mercy have established two different lines by which pilgrims may approach the Holy Door. One line - the most direct - is for those who have made an on-line reservation. The other line - naturally enough - is for those who have not made an on-line reservation. How pilgrim enters St. Peter's Square, however, is not very evident (most of the normal entrances are closed).
Not seeing another entrance, I approached the volunteers at the entrance to the square for those with reservations and asked if I might pass through the Holy Door from this entrance even though I did not have a reservation. The very kind woman told me that priests do not need reservations and directed me to the security screening.
When I arrived at the metal detectors, four people were ahead of me, two of whom kept setting off the metal detector. After several attempts to clear it was determined that metal fittings on their teeth were setting off the alarm (at least that's what the guard said). At any rate, I was at the security check point for not more than four minutes, if that.
Pilgrims with reservations are guided by a set of barricades directly to the facade of the basilica:
Once you ascend the steps, you are free to either go directly to the Holy Door or to linger around a bit outside. I went immediately inside the narthex and was very surprised at how few people I found there:
A simple and helpful reminder was posted in six languages, three on either side of the Holy Door:
As I approached the Holy Door, I couldn't help but look to see the roundel just above the threshold of the doorway in which the call of Saint Peter by Jesus is depicted:
Saint Luke recounts the moment for us:
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he [Jesus] asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him (Luke 5:3-11).
Could we not say that Peter, in that moment, began to open his heart - however falteringly - to the Lord and to his neighbor? I asked Saint Peter to pray for me, that I, too, might open my heart all the more to both God and neighbor, the opening of which might be symbolized by my passing through the Holy Door.
Slowly, then, I ascended the couple of steps just before the Holy Door, grateful for the small number of pilgrims present at that moment (right about 1:00 p.m. yesterday):
From within the basilica, I turned around to take a picture looking out through the Holy Door into the square:
I stopped by the tomb of Pope Saint John Paul II to ask his intercession and then went into the Blessed Sacrament chapel to pray for a few minutes. Afterwards I made my way to the confessio above the tomb of Saint Peter to ask his intercession again:
When I returned to my rooms, I opened Saint Bonaventure's Commentary on the Gospel of Luke to read what the Seraphic Doctor says about the encounter between Jesus and Peter in the boat. He summarizes his comments thusly:
Four elements come together perfectly in this account: the humiliation of Peter making him an apt recipient of grace; wonderment lifting him to understanding; Christ's alleviation of Peter's fear laying the foundation for his confidence; the imitation of the Master guiding them to perfect justice (5.18).
Is this not the purpose of this Jubilee of Mercy for each of us?
Unless we recognize the gravity of our sin, we cannot understand the power and beauty of the Lord's mercy, nor can we receive it. Unless we understand the gravity of our sin, we cannot be wonder at the reception of the Lord's mercy. Without wondering at the beauty and power of the Lord's mercy, we cannot have our fear of being separated from God alleviate (which is not the same as presumption). Without the alleviation of our fear, we cannot imitate the Master and Teacher and live justly, rendering both to God and neighbor what is theirs.
You don't, of course, have to come all the way to Rome to walk through the Holy Door to receive the indulgence granted through the completion of this pious act. You can go to your Bishop's cathedral or to any of the churches he may have designated for this purpose.
Before embarking on your own pilgrimage to your local Holy Door, I encourage you to keep this comment of Saint Bonaventure in mind. In response to Saint Peter's declaration, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man (Luke 5:8)," he says: "Now Peter said this because he had seen the power [of Jesus], but had not perceived Christ's mercy, of which Matthew 9:13 says: 'I have not come to call the just, but sinners.'" Do not send the Lord away, but go to confession and entrust yourself to his mercy. From that encounter, you will be able to wonder at the Lord's mercy and with your fear of his judgement alleviated you will be able "to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).