As we rapidly approach the Christmas Eve vigil of 2009, I am reminded of another Christmas Eve just 10 years ago, a Christmas Eve that I had spent six years preparing for in a special way. The late Holy Father, the recently named Venerable John Paul II said the Great Jubilee 2000 was the event that he believed God had called him to lead the church through.
As such, he began preparing for this momentous occasion almost immediately upon his elevation to the See of Peter by prayer and study. He began to speak about the New Evangelization, and the Great Springtime of the church that would be the third Christian millennium and as his pontificate progressed he began organizing ecclesiastical study sessions aimed at focusing the entire Church on this amazing opportunity, a period of time when the entire world could step back and collectively prepare to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the most momentous occurrence of all time, when time literally was consecrated, that is made holy by the physical presence of God Himself taking on human nature when he was born of a virgin in the most humble of circumstances.
The Holy Father, Venerable John Paul II proclaimed a Holy Year, the Great Jubilee 2000 and invited people to come and celebrate with the Church in Rome, to celebrate in their home counties and Particular Churches, that is their local dioceses, to celebrate in their domestic churches, that is their homes. But before celebration, he invited us to pray and to study.
He proclaimed 1997 the Year of Jesus, and led us on a year long catechism of the Son of God, and similarly he did so for 1998 which was dedicated as a Year of The Holy Spirit and 1999 as a Year of God the Father, and in each of those specific years he asked us to reflect on the special role that the Blessed Virgin Mary played as mother, spouse and daughter of God Himself.
These years of preparation served an important purpose. They were to help center us on the amazing event that was to come, the Holy Year the Great Jubilee 2000 itself. One of the special exercises that the Holy Father introduced was that of the Holy Door as being a powerful portal of conversion.
The Holy Doors in Rome are opened only during Holy Years, and as such the Holy Father saw them as a great metaphor for our lives. That in a very real way the Holy Doors represented a portal of change, a physical and spiritual portal of conversion. He invited the entire world to come to Rome and to “Cross the threshold of hope” into the third Christian Millennium and to take an active part the new “Springtime of evangelization”.
He realized that not everyone could come to Rome to make pilgrimage, although over 10 million did, so he encouraged each diocese to set aside a holy door in its individual Cathedral and churches of particular cultural importance, he also invited individual Catholics to implement a Holy Door in their home if possible, to seal those doors during the year immediately preceding the great Jubilee and to use that closed door as a symbol of anticipation and waiting and to join him in opening the Holy Door on Christmas Eve.
And like he would, to cross the “Threshold of Hope”. I recall quite clearly taking part in this ritual in our home. We had closed off our set of double doors that led to our patio with a giant red ribbon that was crossed and sealed with wax. For an entire year we suffered through the consequence of having to go outside through a less convenient kitchen door. Our friends and family always asking us, what gives with the red ribbon on the doors, which in itself opened an opportunity to evangelize and catechize on the Great Jubilee 2000.
That Christmas Eve our family gathered in the dark of night outside those doors on the patio, we lit our full four candles of the advent wreath and together recited the prayer the Holy Father had authored for the entire church to pray upon crossing the threshold of hope. We then dramatically sliced open that ribbon and thrust open the doors and crossed over into our home to begin our Christmas Eve celebration. It was a fitting and powerful way to begin our family’s Great Jubilee 2000.
The Great Jubilee was marked with particular themed days of celebration and meaningful liturgical celebrations throughout the year. Many were marked with concurrent days of celebration in our local diocese, the particular churches as it were. In our own diocese of Orange, we celebrated the Day of the Eucharist as an entire body. On the Feast of Corpus Christi our Bishop, Tod David Brown encouraged all parishes to join together in one great simultaneous Eucharistic celebration.
Bishop Brown had also designated his cathedral Holy Family as the diocesan Holy Doors and encouraged pilgrims to join in the celebration by coming to cross the threshold, and he also designated an historical church in the southern most tip of our diocese the Basilica Church of San Juan Capistrano which is the oldest parish in our diocese and a church in the northern most part of our diocese the parish church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of our diocese, as Holy Door locations. These three churches became places of pilgrimage all throughout the Holy Year and those who prepared themselves with sacramental confession and reception of the Holy Eucharist were entitled to receive the plenary indulgence that accompanied the pilgrims who were able to go to Rome.
The Great Jubilee concluded on the January 6 2001, the Solemnity of the Epiphany with the publication of his apostolic letter Novo Millenio Inuente, where Venerable John Paul II invited each one of us to “Put out into the deep” waters of the Christian experience . It was without a doubt an amazing grace filled year and was a perfect hope filled antidote to what had been a great anxiety for the world, the Y2K millennium bug. And while the bug did not appear to cause the chaos that had been predicted, the J2K Holy Year more than delivered.
The ensuing decade has been a time of of tremendous challenge, a decade that began with a significant economic recession related to the tech bubble bursting and saw the most contested presidential election in American history, one that was not settled until the US Supreme Court ruled on validity of votes from the state of Florida, a decade that experienced an unprecedented attack on American soil turning airplanes into missiles and killing nearly 3000 American in the as then unnamed Global War on Terror, a decade that has seen continuous warfare, economic boom and bust that has plunged the world into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, a decade that Time Magazine labeled the Decade from Hell.
Yet when looked at through the eyes of faith, using the lessons taught to us by our late Holy Father we see a decade of incredible promise. Following the Great Jubilee we experienced the Year of the Rosary 2002/03 when the Mysteries of Light were introduced to that great meditative prayer, we celebrated the Year of the Eucharist in 2004 and deepened our understanding of the paschal mystery, we experienced the ongoing joy of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto where Venerable John Paul II struggled so greatly in the waning days of his life on earth to be with his beloved youth. We saw how Venerable John Paul II lived to the full until the very end of his life on the vigil of the feast of Divine Mercy 2005, the feast that he had added to the church calendar, with the echoes of the prayers of the faithful outside his bedroom window from below in St Peter’s Square.
We witnessed the amazing sight of 4 million pilgrims descending on Rome to pay their respects to this great leader and to celebrate his life. We saw the world’s leaders gather in St Peter’s Square for a funeral mass celebrated by the late Holy Father’s great friend and cooperator Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who challenged the world to not give into the temptation of despair and to throw off the shackles of the dictatorship of moral relativism that grip so much of modern life. This homily itself a reminder to the call to hope, the call to be not afraid. In the following days we witnessed the amazing spectacle that is papal conclave and the elevation of that same Cardinal Ratzinger to the See of Peter and to take the name of Benedict XVI. We witnessed the new Holy Father continue the program without missing a beat.
To celebrate the World Youth Day 2005 in his home country of Germany in the city founded by Charlemagne on the banks of the Rhine, Cologne whose cathedral church houses the relics of the Magi. We have seen a World Youth Day in the southern most hemisphere of the world in Sydney Australia; we have experienced a Year of St Paul, where we reflected on the life of the Apostle to the Gentiles.
During this decade we have witnessed a bold call to continue the dialogue with schismatic society of St Pius X, the protestant churches that broke during the reformation, the eastern churches that broke during the Great schism of 1054 and an unprecedented invitation to dialogue with the practioners of Islam with the stirring papal address at Regensburg University.
Since that time these various dialogues have born amazing fruit as reconciliation seems closer now that at any time since these various breaks in the unified body of Christ and nearly 200 Muslim scholars have signed on to the ongoing dialogue between Christians and Muslims. And, in the current year we are reflecting on a Year of the Priest where we come to discover a deeper meaning of just how important the sacramental priesthood and these heroic individual men who give their lives to Christ in particular way are. It has been a decade, not from Hell but of great grace, growth, transition and yes, conversion. T
he Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 has born fruits that none of us could have foreseen, and like all moments of reflection, Christmas Eve 2009 gives us a moment to look at the 10 years directly after the Great Jubilee 2000 in a most unique way. This year as I gather again with those same family members around our advent wreath we will once again pray the prayer of the Holy Doors only this time, comfortably on the other side of the threshold of Hope and having experienced the first blades of grass which have sprung up during the new springtime of evangelization.
We will thank God for the many blessings we have received, beg him for the grace necessary know him more intimately, love him more dearly and to serve Him more perfectly and confident in His merciful beneficence.