As we begin this Jubilee Year of Mercy, there’s been a lot of talk about opening doors. On the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis opened the door of Bangui’s Cathedral in the Central African Republic, calling citizens of that war-torn country to work for peace. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) he formally declared the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Doors at St. Peter’s Basilica. Now, the tradition of opening Holy Doors will continue throughout Advent at cathedrals around the world, reminding us that mercy is “the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever, despite our sinfulness” (Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy). So perhaps it is fitting that the main event of this week’s readings happens around the opening of a door.
Let’s imagine that moment . . . Mary arrives at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house, likely a little saddle sore and weary, and knocks on the door. Before she even has a chance to say hello, the child leaps in Elizabeth’s womb and she proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth opens the door to Mary and recognizes the coming of her Saviour.
This door-opening moment, however, would not have been possible without a prior door-opening moment, the moment when Mary responded to the angel’s announcement with an open heart, “be it done to me according to your word.” By opening her heart to God, Mary became the bearer of the one who “shall be peace” (Micah 5.5a) and ushered forth the coming of our Saviour into the world.
It all hinges, pardon the pun, on our willingness to open doors.
So how do we as Christians about to celebrate Christmas, open the doors to both our hearts and our homes?
First, we need to recognize that door opening is a spiritual practice. It begins with an act of faith where we choose to hope, as the pope suggests, in the possibility of being loved forever. For many of us, this is a fundamental challenge. It’s easy for us to believe that we are unworthy of love, to focus on the sinfulness and brokenness of our lives. As Christians we are called to a different response, to believe ourselves loveable, to open our hearts to God’s love, and then extend that love to the war torn landscapes — both local and global — of our world.
This brings me to my second point — the need to translate this spiritual encounter into action. The reading from Hebrews, with its focus on the will of God, helps us understand how to do this. We are called to discerning action as we listen and respond to God’s will. It is not a question of us, as individual Christians, taking up every good cause that comes are way. Rather, it is up to us to respond to the specific call to action that the Spirit has planted in each of our hearts. As St. Paul taught us in his letter to the Corinthians, there are a variety of gifts (1 Corinthains 12.4). But there are also a variety of needs, many doors of human suffering that we can open. To which need is God calling us to offer hospitality at this time?
Finally, we ought to reflect on how we open the doors of both our hearts and homes. Do we open the door a crack, tentatively peeking to seek who it might be that wants to come in? Or, do we fling the doors of our lives wide open, embracing the other graciously and with generosity? I suspect Elizabeth chose the latter option and that we, as Christians, are called to do the same.
All this talk about opening doors is especially poignant as we prepare, as a nation, to welcome refugees. Will we open the doors of our nation just a crack, begrudgingly letting them in but relegating them to the margins of our communities? Or, will we fling the doors wide open, inviting them in as Elizabeth greeted Mary, reminding them that we are blessed to welcome them into our home?
May our celebrations of Christ’s birth fill us with love, hope and joy. May these, in turn, give us the courage to open the doors of our hearts and homes, welcoming those who will bear Christ to us in new and surprising ways!
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.