Put Out into the Deep

Open Wide the Door of Faith

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the text of Bishop DiMarzio’s homily at the closing Mass of the Year of Faith on Nov. 23.

Today, we come to the conclusion of the Year of Faith begun with the Apostolic Letter of Benedict XVI entitled, Porta Fidei or the Door of Faith. In the beginning of his Apostolic Letter, Benedict told us, “The ‘Door of Faith,’ the reference of which is found in the Acts of the Apostles, is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into His Church.” Yes, the Door of Faith is open to us. In the Year of Faith, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, presented for us the opportunity of change and conversion. The Council did not merely present to us documents but rather a new way of living the faith, of engaging the world, a new way of life. Also, in this Year of Faith, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This Catechism, again, was not merely a book with all that we were meant to believe but an opportunity to witness to the world in what we did believe. We commend the members of the Korean community of our Diocese for their recent event in which they studied seriously the Catechism. An excellent competition program was held so they could share the fruit of their study. Through this endeavor, they came to know the faith in a better way. The Year of Faith truly gave us many opportunities to deepen our faith and to share it with others. Today, we take stock and reflect upon what we have done during this Year of Faith.

The Door of Faith was mentioned by Blessed John Paul II in his very first inaugural homily when he said, “Open wide the Doors to Christ.” And then, also by Pope Benedict XVI, when he said, “Open wide the door to Christ and find true life.” Yes, doors are meant to bring us to something new – a new room, a new place, a new experience. In order to have this experience, however, we must cross the threshold; we must put our foot over the doorstep, sometimes not knowing where we are going and, hence, as I continually say, we need to put out into the deep.

The Door of Faith leads us to another door, the door of heaven, Porta Coeli. The words Porta Coeli for me are engraved in my memory, because as a high school student, I attended Mass every day in the Abby Church of St. Mary’s Abby in Newark adjacent to St. Benedict’s Preparatory High School which I attended. Etched in the glass of the front doors of the Church were these two works, Porta Coeli. The Gate of Heaven is described to us already in the Book of Genesis in the dream and experience of Jacob who has a vision and sees the angels of God ascending and descending. Jacob says he was afraid, “How awe-inspiring this place is. This is nothing less than the abode of God and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:17). As I studied Latin, I began to understand what the words themselves meant, door of heaven. But only in living the faith, perhaps, did I really begin to understand what these words truly are about.

Because the door of heaven truly is the entrance into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God which is proclaimed by Jesus Christ and to which He invites each and every one of us to enter. Truly, it is the point of contact where heaven and earth meet. Yes, the church buildings are called Porta Coeli; however, it goes deeper. Our connection and our access point for the life of grace come when we cross the threshold of the Church, literally, but there are other senses where this makes sense to us. Where does the door of heaven exist? First, it exists in Jesus Christ, the King. Today, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, a feast given to us historically as the world was threatened by false ideologies: communism, socialism, anti-clericalism, materialism. All of these “isms” seem to take away our attention from the Savior of the World, and so in 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., which affirmed in the Creed that we recite each Sunday, “That His Kingdom will have no end.” Indeed, Christ is the focus of our faith; He is the King of the Kingdom that we wish to enter in this world and in the world to come. It was by no coincidence that two years later in 1927, when the anti-Catholic revolution began in Mexico, that when facing his executioners, Father Miguel Pro, S.J., forgave the firing squad, stretched out his arms in the form of a cross and proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey,” “Long live Christ the King.”

Today, we face much of the same challenges to our faith and religious freedom. It is only through Christ the King and the door of heaven that we can find our refuge. Christ, indeed, is the Gate of Heaven, and it is through Him that we must enter His kingdom. But His kingdom is found truly in the Church, the Church which is the house of God and the Gate of Heaven because it is the Body of Christ. The Church, the community of faith, the people of God, is where the Word of God is proclaimed and the sacraments that make Jesus present through the power of the Holy Spirit are celebrated. We cannot find the door to heaven unless we find our way through the Church.

Finally, the Gate of Heaven is found also in ourselves, because we who are the witnesses of faith must allow others to come to faith, through our witness. As we end the Year of Faith, we now must begin a life of faith. This we do by participating in the New Evangelization. The New Evangelization gives each one of us the opportunity to begin to share what we love with each other. In Chapter Three of the Book of Revelation, we hear, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Yes, this is the invitation that the Lord gives to us. There is a famous painting of Christ knocking at the door, but the door has no door handle and there is only a knocker by which the Lord announces Himself. The door can only be opened from inside. It is from inside of us that we must open ourselves through Christ that we must enter the Kingdom of God through the door of our hearts.

There is much to be done, as we engage in the New Evangelization in our Diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens. We have already outlined some of the programs that we have undertaken during the year of faith, none of which have been completed; namely, as we began the Year of Faith, we took special attention upon the newcomers in our Diocese. In particular, we see the Chinese population, which numbers almost 400,000, and the other young professional people, who have taken up residence in the Diocese of Brooklyn in the past five years, in such great numbers. We mean not to ignore anyone else; however, these particular new groups do not escape our attention. And so we will continue our efforts by finding apostolic programs, new evangelizers and new methods to meet these challenges to us and to our Diocese.

The Church, indeed, must become the door of heaven. We must invite others to enter through our faith and the faith in Jesus Christ that will save them.

But we do not undertake this task by ourselves. There is another title given to Our Lady, which is the Gate of Heaven, Ianua Coeli. The open gate, which is Mary, is pointed to in the Psalm when the angel proclaims that he has opened the Gates of Heaven. On the other side of the gate, we find Jacobs’s ladder from Genesis, and we see Jacob sleeping at the foot of the ladder and the angels moving up and down. The origin of this Marian allegory is found in the Acts of the Council of Ephesus which took place in 431 A.D. in a homily for the Feast of the Annunciation. The homily alludes to the gate that shall remain closed, since the Lord has entered it. But we recognize that it is she, the Mother of the Lord, who opens the Gate of Heaven. She is Ave Maria Stella, Felix Porta Coeli. These titles are given to Mary in history. How important it is that we call upon her, the Mother of the Redeemer, the Soul of the Redemption, the Queen of Heaven. We conclude our plea with the words of Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, O gates” because there we find the Gate of Heaven that we enter because we have already entered the gate of faith.

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