By the time Jan. 7 dawns, Rome's holy doors will all be closed, and parishes will begin to take down the Jubilee posters and flags that adorn many pilgrimage churches across the United States.
The Great Jubilee will be done. More holy years will come — the anniversary of Christ's death and resurrection, for instance, will be noted, but not for another 1,000 years will we have another opportunity to celebrate the passing of another millennium in the history of Christ's continued transformation of the world.
Now all that is left is to size up what the Holy Year has meant, and what it ought to mean, now.
There is a temptation to reduce the Great Jubilee's scope, making it merely the story of Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father is a great figure indeed and, without his intense focus on the millennial anniversary, the Jubilee would never have captured the imagination of Catholics the way it did.
Yes, the Pope gave it a character that would be hard to match. His careful preparation for it included not just two major papal documents, but years of research and evaluation of the Church by its top theologians. We saw the Church's wisdom applied to the martyrs, Catholics' sins throughout time, the Church's place in salvation history and the faith of taxi drivers, pizza makers, bishops and single lay people.
Through John Paul's witness, major media players usually tone-deaf to the Catholic faith were able to grasp a little bit of the Jubilee's purpose, especially through the Holy Father's historic mea culpa on behalf of the Church and his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. “Consider the long and extraordinary life of Karol Wojtyla in the context of Middle East tensions, Time magazine wrote in its year-end wrap-up, remembering the Nazi atrocities the future Pope was horrified by in his youth. “In the Holy Land he begged forgiveness and asked over and over again for peace.”
But the last thing the Pope wants is for the Jubilee's meaning to be reduced to the tiny size of his life — vis a vis 2,000 years of Christtianity. If you look at him alone, you'll miss the whole point. It's not “all about John Paul”: It's all about Christ.
The Jubilee belongs to the whole Church, from the college of cardinals to the assistant sacristans, to the family running a little late for 10 a.m. Mass because a 3-year-old didn't like her dress.
The Holy Father stressed this by giving so many Catholic groupings their 15 minutes of liturgical fame. He stressed it by becoming a pilgrim himself, touring the Holy Land and Egypt. And, on the last Sunday of last liturgical year, he made it explicit by addressing lay people with explicit instructions: an examination of conscience and some homework.
The questions of his conscience exam are basic, but very few of us can answer them guiltlessly. “What have I done with by baptism and confirmation? Is Christ really at the center of my life? Do I make time for prayer? Do I live my life as a mission?”
Next, said the Pope, the documents of the Second Vatican Council explain what fields lay people are supposed to work in.
“Suffice it to say that it includes social conquests and the revolution in the genetic field,” he said, “in economic progress and in the underdevelopment that exists in wide areas of the planet; in the tragedy of hunger in the world, and in the difficulties of safeguarding peace; in the fiber network of communications and in the drama of loneliness and violence that we hear about every day.”
It's a tall order. But the Great Jubilee is supposed to accomplish great things. And there aren't any Catholics but us to do it.