On Sunday, December 13, Bishop John Noonan stood before the large central bronze door of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando with a crowd of close to 400 faithful behind him. They travelled from across the diocese, to be part of the opening of the diocesan Holy Door of Mercy, part of the universal Church’s inauguration of the Jubilee of Mercy celebrated December 8, 2015 through November 20, 2016.
As Bishop Noonan proclaimed in a loud voice, “This is the Lord’s gate: let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness” the doors slowly opened revealing the bright lights of the basilica within. The people processed through the doorway, each with their own hopes and prayers for the Jubilee Year. Some waited up to five minutes for their turn to enter the door and even rain showers that started after the opening of the door did not deter the faithful from the opportunity to cross the threshold of the Holy Door.
Mark Gallagher from St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Cloud came with his wife and seven children, praying to grow in mercy and faith as they raise their family. Megan Vermeer, a recent convert to the faith from St. James Cathedral, hopes to learn to be more merciful with herself. Ana Sales from Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs believes the world is in need of this message of mercy now more than ever. With varying situations and personal intentions, the crowd entered the basilica to be united in the experience of God’s mercy through the Mass which Bishop Noonan celebrated after opening the Holy Door. More than 2,000 people participated.
In his homily, Bishop Noonan explained that passing through the door is a symbol of conversion, “Our passing through the door is a gesture of leaving behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace, from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from anger to peace, from sadness to joy.”
This Door of Mercy will remain open throughout the Jubilee Year, inviting participation in the Sacraments which are central to the Church’s understanding of the mercy of the Father.
At the Basilica, the Mass is celebrated twice daily and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is offered for seven hours each day. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is offered for eight hours each day. All of these opportunities unite people with God more closely through His Son, Jesus Christ, the visible face of mercy. Pope Francis has announced a plenary indulgence during the Jubilee of Mercy for people who make a pilgrimage to their local diocesan Door of Mercy, “as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion.” To obtain the indulgence, the pilgrim must participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy. These celebrations must be accompanied by the profession of faith and with prayer for the Holy Father and his intentions. Pope Francis extended the indulgence to those who are precluded from visiting a designated church, i.e. those who are homebound or incarcerated. He has also granted the indulgence to those performing traditional spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
“Mercy is the offering of the fullness of life. It is not just a year or a program. It is a call for us to be Sacrament, to be Eucharist” says Bishop Noonan. “It is essential for our growth in faith in which to participate fully. Whatever is done in this Jubilee Year of Mercy might focus on this opportunity for evangelization, so that the words, merciful like the Father, become our breath, our food, our life.”
Gallagher agrees that that the mercy of God is not just a one-time event but is a daily occurrence.
“It means every day recognizing the gift that Christ is and letting Him take over. That’s discipleship and a really challenging way to live but my life before and my life after are totally different. It’s a lifelong thing. I try to get to Sacrament of Penance frequently. I have a Eucharistic devotion and see that as the source and summit of everything we’re doing.”
In his Announcement of the Jubilee of Mercy Pope Francis explained the role of the Church in spreading the mercy of God. “No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house where everyone is welcomed and no one is rejected. Her doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace may find the assurance of forgiveness.”