By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — If William Shakespeare was correct and mercy “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,” then the Jubilee Year of Mercy got off to a great start in Kansas City.
A steady downpour of “mercy” from heaven Dec. 13 forced Plan B as Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. ritually declared and opened the Holy Door — the main, interior double doors leading to the sanctuary — at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Originally, the congregation was to assemble outside then process inside through the door.
But as a concession to the weather, the congregation was allowed inside as Bishop Johnston ritually opened the doors. Then the entire congregation very efficiently, very methodically and very reverently left their pews, exited through west side interior door, then re-entered back through the Holy Door.
It was the beginning of an act of faith that held deep meaning, Bishop Johnston told congregations, during both the Dec. 13 opening of the Holy Door, and during the official worldwide beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
And it was especially appropriate that the year begin on that Marian feast day, he said Dec. 8. The doors to salvation that were shut and sealed by the sin of Adam and Eve were opened again when Mary said “Yes,” to God’s plan for her to bear the Savior.
“It’s a beautiful image,” Bishop Johnston said. “God in Jesus enters through this ‘door’ and dwells among us as a man to show us the ‘face of God’s mercy.’”
Having the courage of Mary to say “Yes” and to walk through the door to God is the only way to true peace, Bishop Johnston said.
“God’s will might at times seem like a burden or too difficult, but in reality, it is the way to true goodness and happiness. It is the door whereby we allow God into our lives,” Bishop Johnston said.
The Catholic tradition of the Holy Door dates back to the 14th Century, where on special Jubilee Years, a sealed door at the major basilicas in Rome was broken open, allowing the people to enter before it was sealed back up.
In previous Jubilee Years, the faithful would have to make a pilgrimage to Rome to receive the graces and indulgences for the act of faith of crossing through a Holy Door.
But for this year, with the world hungry for the assurance of God’s loving mercy, Pope Francis decreed that when he opened the Holy Door of Mercy at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome on Dec. 13, bishops throughout the world can designate, bless and open Holy Doors of Mercy in their own dioceses.
And they can designate several in each diocese to make the graces and indulgences of God’s mercy accessible to all.
In the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, there are seven. In addition the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Johnston opened the Holy Door at Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph at the vigil Mass on Dec. 12.
The five others are:
• The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Conception Abbey, Conception.
• Our Lady of Good Counsel in Midtown Kansas City, the official diocesan Shrine of Divine Mercy.
• Holy Rosary in Clinton, serving the southern side of the diocese.
• Sacred Heart in Warrensburg, serving the eastern side, and Sacred Heart/Guadalupe in Kansas City’s West Side, both chosen for their geographic accessibility and to renew the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It was fitting that Pope Francis carefully chose the Third Sunday in Advent — “Rejoice Sunday” — to throw open the doors to God’s mercy, Bishop Johnston said on that day.
“St. Paul says forthrightly to us in the second reading, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice!’” Bishop Johnston said.
“We may wonder though, why and how can we rejoice when there is so much trouble, so much to worry about in the world and in our own lives,” he said.
“There are financial strains, there are health problems we face, problems within family relationships, the economy is shrinking and so is the middle class, there are terrorist attacks, persecutions against religion and especially Catholicism, pressures and work and so on,” the bishop said.
“Does the Lord expect us to rejoice in the face of these and other problems? Quite simply, yes,” Bishop Johnston said.
“We can rejoice because the troubles of this world are temporary, but our life and our friendship with God are eternal,” he said.
“Jesus didn’t come to make this world a paradise, but to save it, and he did so through suffering and the way of the cross,” Bishop Johnston said.
“He came to transform this fallen world from a hopeless dead end into a pilgrimage route to eternal life. This world and its troubles are temporary. God and our life with him are eternal,” he said.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy is also a reminder of St. Paul’s words in the same reading that “The Lord is near,” no matter how hopeless we may feel, Bishop Johnston said.
“Imagine being adrift at sea on a tiny life raft for several weeks, nothing in sight but ocean, running out of water and food, sunburned and exhausted,” he said.
“You are close to despair and giving up, and then a second later, you notice on the horizon — land!!!” he said.
“Imagine the difference between one second and the next,” Bishop Johnston said.
“One second you don’t know you are near land and salvation; the very next second you do, and your spirit soars with joy and hope,” he said.
“This is what Jesus wants us to know when we feel adrift and without hope on the ocean of this world’s troubles. He is near,” Bishop Johnston said.
Bishop Johnston said that even when we aren’t aware of it, God still loves us.
“Much of the time God is trying to get our attention, and we are unaware of his love and desire for us to know he is there,” he said.
“Eventually, God comes into our very midst and we awaken to this gift of gifts, and it changes everything. Jesus wants us to encounter him, that he is real, living, alive, gazing upon us, with us,” Bishop Johnston said.
“This is not only the message of Advent as we look eagerly for Jesus; it is the joyous reality that this Jubilee Year of Mercy presents,” he said.
“Let us respond with intensity to God, eager as little children rushing across the room into open arms that we know will embrace us and lift us up, as a parent does to a little child,” Bishop Johnston said.
“Let us go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently and receive the graces of God’s merciful indulgence passing through the Holy Door, offering the prayers and good works of those who belong to God,” he said.
“When we live in the knowledge and security of God’s love, we are freed to live generously and gratefully ourselves,” Bishop Johnston said.
On Dec. 8, Bishop Johnston reminded the congregation that God’s mercy is not only a gift to be received, but a gift to share through spiritual and corporal acts of mercy.
“This is a time of repentance and healing and restoration — a time when grace is offered in abundance,” he said on the Marian Feast Day.
“As we receive the Father’s mercy, so are we called to extend mercy to others,” Bishop Johnston said.
“In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the church, Marian herself, opens the door to invite all her children to tangibly experience God’s mercy, but also to reflect on the spiritual and corporate works of mercy,” he said.
Recalling the Old Testament origins of the Jubilee Year, it was a year when slaves were freed, debts were forgiven, and ancestral lands were restored, Bishop Johnston said.
“It was a way of living under God’s reign. Every 50 years there would be a year of grace so that no one would experience absolute and perpetual poverty,” he said.
“As we begin this Jubilee Year of Mercy, it has less to do with earthly and economic concerns like ancestral lands, but everything to do with eliminating spiritual poverty and slavery to sin, restoring us to the full and abundant life we were given originally in Baptism,” Bishop Johnston said.
“In faith, let us each use this year ahead to walk through the Holy Door of God’s mercy, in body and spirit, allowing God to clothe us, as he did the Prodigal Son, with the grace and favor of his love and mercy,” he said.
“And, like Mary, let us open doors for God to enter our world through our daily ‘Yes’ to his will,” Bishop Johnston said.