In this Year of Mercy, I know many people have had incredible experiences of receiving the Father’s Mercy and of profound encounters with Christ at deeper levels of their lives. I hope you are taking advantage of this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Here is just one story I wish to share with you.
Someone recently made a visit to the Holy Door at the Sacred Heart Chapel in the Grand Teton National Park. When they arrived, the church was empty, and he had the place to himself. The lights were not on, so it was rather dark and cold. Nonetheless, he experienced the beauty of the chapel calling him to a moment of silent prayer.
After several minutes, he began to leave when a woman came in, opened both doors and turned on the lights. In one quick moment the chapel was transformed into a bright, warm cheerful place of worship, and he was aware of the birds chirping outside. He chatted briefly with this new arrival and she explained that she was the caretaker of the chapel.
Suddenly, a young family with two small children entered the chapel. While the mother took the children to the side, the father asked about the Door of Mercy. The caretaker carefully provided an excellent explanation that it is a “special door any person can enter to experience the compassion, love and mercy of God.” The bystander could see the father’s eyes well up. The caretaker asked if he was Catholic and he stated that as a baby he was baptized Catholic but had not been in a church since! As he said this, the father could no longer hold his tears back and he was crying. Yet he was still curious and asked her to explain more about the Year of Mercy.
The woman again in perfect words explained the purpose of love and kindness and providing the opportunity for anyone to experience the mercy of God in this special year. The father was now completely overcome with emotions, and he fell to one knee sobbing. Clearly, this was a very powerful moment for him.
He quickly tried to regain composure and quietly walked further into the chapel and sat down. The bystander quietly made his way back into the chapel, knelt down, made the sign of the cross, and began to pray for this father and his family. He noticed the father eventually moved from a sitting position to kneel in the pew.
Only God knows what else transpired in that chapel and in the heart of that man.
I’ll close this reflection with a few words from Pope Francis’ encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel:
46. A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.
47. The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.
My dear friends, may you know of God’s love and that the heart of Jesus is always open to you. In return, may the doors of our hearts always be open to others, as we seek to be ‘in the flesh’ the tenderness and love of God for them.