Knock, knock. My six-year-old granddaughter, delighted that she has learned a new joke, is persistent in demanding a response from the people around her. “Who’s there?” we reply patiently and while the answer is invariably an already known “groaner” from the adult’s standpoint, she is endlessly amused.
One might have heard Knock, knock echoing around the world beginning on Dec. 8 as Pope Francis stood at St. Peter’s Basilica in front of a massive door and rapped on it. As the Holy Door swung open, Francis paused on the threshold, silently taking a moment to pray before stepping through and formally inaugurating the Year of Mercy. A few days later, on the Third Sunday of Advent, the knocking resounded worldwide as cathedrals and local churches, at Francis’ decree, opened their own Doors of Mercy and invited people to step through them.
The action is not a meaningless one. Stepping through doorways can be life-changing, as the children of Narnia at the back of a battered wardrobe discovered and as Dorothy and her companions facing the doors of Emerald City were to learn. Doorways are portals to newness: behind is one space, one way of being; in front is another. When we step over the threshold of a doorway, we leave something behind and enter into something new.
Pope Francis stands at the doorway of the church and invites all into newness. “Enter into the land I am giving you,” says the Lord, and Francis describes for us the contours of the new landscape. It is a land where mercy reigns, the face of God is pure tenderness and where all are welcome. It is a church where people gaze at one another and the world with softened hearts and gentle eyes. It is a place where forgiveness and reconciliation trump legalism, and the church forgoes its obsession with dogmatism, rubrics and orthodoxy, in favour of being a hospital for souls and a witness and voice for the marginalized and the poor. “Step into this land,” Francis urges, “step over the threshold, into a church where God’s mercy is poured out and lived.”
But this Holy Year might also be a time to consider the other doors and thresholds in our lives, doors where we stand and knock, thresholds where we wait to be invited to cross into new lands.
Near where I live, a retreat centre has opened just such a “holy door.” With permission from the diocesan bishop, the centre has become a designated pilgrimage site for the Year of Mercy. It is a Franciscan owned centre and their theme for the year, in the spirit of Laudato Si’, is the sacredness of creation. Thus, their Holy Door is a little different: it opens not into the vast expanse of a church, nor even the intimacy of a retreat centre chapel. Their Holy Door is an indoor one which opens out into a grotto. One steps across its threshold out into a garden; one steps across its threshold into creation itself.
At this time of year it is winter’s whiteness that greets you: trees and shrubs, barren and stark; a small frozen stream, grey with ice striations; deer and fox tracks marking the otherwise smooth snow; a crystal clear blue sky so bright it hurts your eyes to gaze up at it. But as the pilgrims come and the year unfolds, winter’s white will give way to spring’s tender green, followed by summer’s vivid florals and, eventually, autumn’s fire. At each season of the year, as people step through this particular Door of Mercy, they will experience the wonder and the grandeur found in the cathedral of creation. Hopefully, as they do so, they will know humankind’s need to seek mercy for the sins we have committed against our beautiful home, “for the sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” as Francis puts it in Laudato Si’. Stepping across the threshold out into the world, men and women will be invited to live in right relationship with all created things and with the very stuff of our planet. Mercy, indeed!
Then there are the many doors each of us faces personally. They might be in our families: the locked bedroom door of our alienated teen; the closed door that shuts us out of our elderly parents’ lives; the barrier between brother and sister. They might be in our places of work: bitterness toward co-workers; accumulated disappointments over time. How many of our relationships are characterized by seemingly impassable barriers of anger, pain, cynicism, or resentment? How can we open the doors of dialogue and gain entry into a new way of being with one another? During this Year of Mercy, we are invited to say, Knock, knock, before all the closed doors of our lives and invite mercy in.
We stand before so many doors. Some we are eager to enter, but, standing before others, we are apprehensive or reluctant. Some doors will open easily; others only with difficulty. Some might even remain closed. But we try. Knocking, standing on their thresholds, we too pray. We pray to be invited in; we pray to enter in with transformed hearts, accompanied by the Lord of Mercy. Only then will we enter the land the Lord is trying to give us.
What doors stand before you? Where will you knock and asked to be allowed in? What thresholds are waiting to be crossed and especially, where and how will you let the Lord of Mercy into your own life?
Prather, BEd, MTh, is a teacher and facilitator in the areas of faith and spirituality. She was executive director at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta., for 21 years and resides in Sherwood Park with her husband, Bob. They are blessed with four children and 10 grandchildren.