The “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering
us into the life of communion
with God and offering entry
into his Church.
To enter through that door
is to set out on a journey
that lasts a lifetime. (Pope Benedict XVI, “Porta Fidei”)
Usually, walking through a door isn’t a big deal. When I’m home, for example, I move through the doors of my house – living room, office, kitchen, den and chapel – frequently, without giving it a second thought. While at work I pass through the doors of my office, adjacent offices and conference rooms a dozen times a day.
Sometimes, though, passing through a door can be a really big deal, a memorable life-changing experience.
For example, I remember rather clearly opening the thick glass doors of St. Mark’s Seminary in Erie, PA for the first time in September of 1962, an entrance filled with a mixture of excitement and fear totally appropriate for a 14-year-old leaving home for the first time.
I remember entering the imposing doors of three great cathedrals, in Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Providence, on four distinct, life-changing occasions: my Ordination to the Priesthood, my Ordination as Bishop, and my Installations as Ordinary of two dioceses.
I remember passing through the impressive and ornate doors of the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican on four separate occasions, with sweaty palms and rapidly beating heart, for personal meetings with Blessed Pope John Paul II.
I remember being rolled through the back doors of an ambulance parked in my driveway, flat on my back, and then the emergency room doors of Fatima Hospital when a painful, crippled back rendered me unable to walk. Fortunately, a few days later I was able to walk through the doors of the hospital on my own two feet.
All of these images come to mind as I reflect on Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, the Door of Faith, written to introduce the Year of Faith which the Church will observe from October, 2012 to November, 2013. Pope Benedict, our spiritual father, writes that “to enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.”
Authentic faith does indeed last a lifetime. It begins with baptism, the Holy Father writes, and ends with our passage through death to eternal life, as we approach the most impressive doors of all – the “pearly gates” of heaven.
Our baptism and death – those bookends of our journey of faith are marked by a certain irony. For most people, the first and last times they enter the doors of a church are at the hands of others – at baptism, when our parents or godparents carry us into church, and at our funeral when our pall bearers roll us down the center aisle. In between, though, we’re usually responsible for entering the church on our own.
In saying that our faith lasts a lifetime, the Holy Father points to its power to change and direct our lives. Authentic faith isn’t just something we exercise inside those church doors on Sunday, or even less, just at Christmas or Easter. Authentic faith touches every aspect of our lives, changing them, transforming them, lifting them up. Jesus said that if we had faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, we could move mountains. (Mt 17:20) Maybe it’s an exaggeration, maybe not. But it’s true that effective faith can form minds, change hearts, inspire nations, and enlighten the world.
How poor, how empty, how sterile our lives would be without faith in God, who is our Creator and Judge, “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) But conversely, our faith in God adds direction, meaning, and beauty to our lives.
Our faith is the foundation on which we build the rest of our lives. It’s the North Star that gives us a sense of direction should we become lost or confused. It’s the harbor that welcomes us home and gives us shelter to escape the storms of life. And it’s the key that unlocks for us the doors of heaven when at last our journey on earth has ended.
Another famous door comes to mind as I write this. No doubt you’ve seen the image of Jesus standing at a large, closed door, knocking on the door and listening intently for an answer. The image depicts the words of Jesus in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house.” (3:20) The door in the painting has no external handle and therefore can be opened only from the inside. It’s a reminder that Jesus never forces Himself into our lives, but is always ready and willing to enter, should we invite Him.
The Year of Faith “is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world,” Pope Benedict writes in Porta Fidei. In other words, It’s all about Jesus.
The Year of Faith is a gift for the Church around the world and here in the Diocese of Providence. It’s an opportunity for us. We need to accept the gift, welcome the opportunity and embrace the grace of the moment. Is Jesus knocking at your door? Go ahead; open the door; let Him in. He will change your life.