Opening the Holy Door in the Jubilee Year of Mercy

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When Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, I must admit I had a lot of questions about it.  But I was curious at best–I wanted to know its special significance and the benefits attached to it.

Declared last December 8, 2015 (coinciding with the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) and to run until November 20, 2016 (the Feast of Christ the King), it has been called an extraordinary jubilee simply because it is something that is not scheduled or predetermined ahead.  What makes it more significant is its purpose:  the jubilee is seen as a special period for remission of sins and obtaining universal pardon and mercy from God.

Opening of the Holy Door

In every jubilee, the pope celebrates this by opening the Holy Doors in Rome.  People who pass through these doors gain a plenary indulgence among other blessings.  On this jubilee year, Pope Francis has decided to make the Holy Doors accessible to the faithful by allowing every diocese all over the world to designate a Holy Door in their area.

Remission of Sins and Gaining Indulgences

To Catholics, we are taught to understand that there are two kinds of sins: mortal and venial sins.  In any case, any kind of sin ought to be confessed to a priest with the recitation of certain prayers (the Act of Contrition and the absolution given by the priest-confessor).  We are absolved from these sins, but the effects (or scars) of our sins are not completely erased.  That is when the idea of gaining good works and indulgences come in.

And this is one big benefit of entering the Holy Door, it gains one plenary indulgence of one’s sins.  I will not go into detail about indulgences, but there are plenty of good links available about it.

The Holy Doors in Metro Manila

There are several Holy Doors designated in the country, but I am only familiar with the 6 churches within Metro Manila area:  the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros; Divine Mercy Shrine in Mandaluyong City; Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Makati; Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Church in Pasay City; Sanctuario de Santo Cristo in San Juan; and Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit one of the Holy Doors.  The picture above is the Holy Door from the Divine Mercy Shrine in Maysilo, Mandaluyong City.  You’d notice it right away from the notice on the side which says Portia Sancta (“Holy Door” in Latin).

What You Have To Do

When entering the Holy Door, you have to make the sign of the cross with reverence and contrition.  Pilgrims follow a certain procedure, recite certain prayers, and this varies from church to church.  Those who are really keen on completing the pilgrimage may also opt to buy a passport at any of the designated churches.  After reciting the prayers and going through the steps, those who opt to buy a passport should go to the parish office and have their “passports” stamped.  It is pretty much like the passport stamping done on pilgrimage to the Buen Camino de Santiago (“Way of St. James”) in Spain.  It makes the pilgrimage interesting and memorable.

Try to visit any of these Holy Doors, especially during Holy Week.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will enrich you spiritually.

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Going Up The Mountain – A Reflection

The prophets of the Old Testament did it, with Abraham sacrificing Isaac on Mount Moriah, Moses receiving the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai and later retired on Mount Nebo, and Elijah on Mt. Carmel….  Even Jesus did it when He took His forty-day fast.  And St. Francis received the stigmata while on a mountain retreat in the mountains of Italy.

Mt. Sinai as it is today (Source: Wikimedia)

Mt. Sinai as it is today       (Source: Wikimedia)

The Beauty of the Mountains

Why did the prophets go up the mountain?  The sheer height of the mountains–the feeling of “touching the heavens”–makes one feel close to the divine.  As one climbs up, there is the feeling of isolation as one separates himself from the rest of the world to come in close contact with God.  “The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth” (Psalm 97:5).  Coupled with a long and difficult hike that can be likened to our constant struggles in life, reaching the top is the pinnacle of one’s search to find God.

So I reckoned:  why not do my own journey, LITERALLY?  And what better day to do it than on my birthday?  And do I did, with the purpose of thanking God for the wonderful life and blessings He has given me in my forty years existence on earth.  But rather than search God, I decided that my purpose was to THANK God.  With the full support of my husband and son, sister-in-law and uncle, we headed off to Taal Volcano exactly a week ago.  More on this experience in my  Musings of A Village Rat blog.

Tossed by Rough Waves

We were met with a few challenges before we even began the trek.  We were met with a slight drizzle that early morning before we left Bacoor and was met again by a light rain shower in Tagaytay.  When we boarded the banca, the lake was pretty calm, but halfway in the trip the lake was tossing us.  Full of excitement, the 2 kids (my son and nephew) were squealing in excitement, but the adults weren’t too gung-ho about it.  The bumpy ride was over in about 15-20 minutes.  It seemed longer than 20 minutes though.

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Note the waters getting rough

Note the waters getting rough

Praying While Scaling Up

Horse rides were available, but we decided that only the kids would get a ride while we got up the crater on foot.  I had intended to pray at the start of the ascent but was met with difficulty as the volcanic sand (and later rocky terrain) had made it difficult for me to concentrate on my prayer.  I wasn’t an experienced mountain climber after all as my sister-in-law was, so I had to catch my breath a few times.  Everytime I started on a Hail Mary, I would be interrupted by a difficult step, a pause or funny chats with my companions.  No matter however.  As St. Therese of Lisieux had mentioned in her book, Story of A Soul, disturbances or interruptions are part of prayer and should not deter one from prayer incessantly.

The long way up

Nevertheless, by the time we reached the top I had already finished a few prayers in silence.  Nobody knew I was even praying!  The view at the top was breathtakingly beautiful.  Without shouting at the top of my lungs, I could only mutter to myself: “THANK YOU LORD! HOW GREAT ART THOU!”

A  view of the crater

A view of the crater

I had my sister-in-law to take a photo of me in an oblation pose.  It was my big hug to our Lord in the vastness of the sky.

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A Bird That Comforted Me

We stayed at the crater for about an hour to sink in the beauty before we made our descent.  Going down was just as difficult as going up, but I managed to say a few aspirations before we reached the shoreline.  By the time we crossed the waters back to Talisay, the lake had become very rough.  The banca’s bow would do a small nosedive everytime we were met by strong waves.  We had water splashed over us repeatedly.  Everybody was a little panicky and for a short time, I was too.  I made a small prayer to St. Raphael, the patron saint of travellers, and asked for protection.  Up in the sky that caught my attention was a swallow that was riding in the wind.  Then and there I remembered my uncle who was a captain who told me this: “If you see a bird ride up the sky, you are quite safe. If the bird was able to fly, then there is no reason why you cannot be ride the boat safely”.

Remembering this, I knew we were going to be just fine.  This bird did not leave our side until we crossed the other side, and when we unboarded it had already gone.  All I can say was “thank you”.

It was truly a special day for me.