Even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy which is the heart of Christ always remains open wide for us.
After closing the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica to conclude the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis this morning immediately processed out of the Basilica into St. Peter’s Square to begin the celebration of the Eucharist. This progression was natural and an important reminder because, as he said in his homily at Mass, mercy is not dependent on a door into a church building – it is a door that is always open because Jesus Christ, the Key of David (Clavis David) always invites us into his heart, which is mercy.
Anticipating the beginning of the Season of Advent next weekend, the chant during the closing of the Holy Door was one of the so-called O Antiphons – “O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel; you open and no one closes, you close and no one opens: Come, and lead forth from the house of bondage the captive sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.” Singing that antiphon would prove to be prophetic for a few of us later in the day.
This afternoon, four of us decided to walk around the walls of Vatican City to visit Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s titular church – Santa Maria della Grazie al Trionfale. Since Cardinals are considered part of the clergy of Rome, each one is given a Roman church for which he serves as something of an honorary pastor and patron. Cardinal Tobin’s titular church is an active parish community – eight Masses are celebrated there every Sunday and five on weekdays – in a typical Roman neighborhood just a stone’s throw from the walls of Vatican City, yet seemingly worlds away from the traditional historic and tourist areas of the city. It’s really a lovely church – fairly new for Rome, built in 1941 after Mussolini bulldozed the previous church to make way for a triumphal plaza. Simple in design and ornamentation, it has some beautiful frescoes along the side walls and a historic icon of Our Lady of Grace – Santa Maria della Grazie.
And we got locked inside. “O Key of David … you open and no one closes, you close and no one opens.”
When we arrived at the church, the main doors were locked, but a side door that appeared to go to the church offices was open – so we went in and found ourselves in a hallway with a door into the church, which was also open. We spent time in the church praying for Cardinal Tobin and the local community, took a look around, picked up a few copies of today’s bulletin, which features a letter from their new Cardinal patron, and went to leave the same way we came – only to find the door to the outside locked. Italian doors are not like American doors – they don’t have crash bars or knobs that allow you to exit even if they are locked. When a door is locked, you need a key to get through from either direction. And we were locked inside.
Now, being locked in a church – especially Cardinal Tobin’s titular church – is not a horrible thing, at least for a little while. But after trying all of the other doors, we found a phone number to call the parish – and one of the priests answered. One of the guys in our group speaks a little Italian and tried to explain to Father Antonio, the local priest, what had happened. Father Antonio came down fairly quickly and welcomed us – he said that he doesn’t know how we got inside since all the doors were locked – it must have been a miracle! He showed us around the church some more and then produced a big set of keys to unlock the door so we could leave. It was a wonderful encounter and memorable experience – so we can now say that we were once locked inside the a church in Rome that happens to be the titular church of a Cardinal who had been Archbishop of Indianapolis!
Tonight, we will join Cardinal Tobin and many family, friends, and pilgrims for a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Church of St. Alphonsus, the mother-church of the Redemptorists and home to the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As we do so, there is indeed much to be thankful to God for, especially the humble and faithful man who has become a Cardinal of Holy Roman Church.