Voices: Opening doors of hearts to Christ’s mercy

By Sharon Perkins
Guest Columnist

There’s nothing as daunting, disappointing or disheartening as finding a door locked when you were expecting to find it open. This has happened to me several times. Like taking a friend to a favorite restaurant a great distance away, just to find that it’s closed on that particular day of the week. Or tracking down that special Christmas gift to the only store in town that has it in stock –– just to get there three minutes too late. Getting to my hotel room in the middle of the night, laden with luggage and wanting nothing more than to sink into a bed — to repeatedly scan a key card that wasn’t properly activated. Or even returning to my car to discover that I’ve locked myself out of it, with the keys on the front seat in plain sight and no spare key in my purse. 
Closed doors are barriers that we usually don’t think twice about; we simply open them and walk through. But locked doors — whether locked through our own carelessness or someone else’s intention — are a different story. They can stop us in our tracks, thwart our plans, or say to us, “you aren’t welcome here,” and there’s nothing you can do about them. It takes an intervention of some kind to open a locked door.
And so I’ve also experienced those surprising moments when locked doors unexpectedly opened for me. Like when my optometrist took pity on me and remained open after hours because I was traveling the next day and needed new contact lenses. Or when a kind passerby helped me unlock my car (in the old days when you could get to the button locks with a wire coat hanger). Or when a friend gave me a spare key to her place so I could “crash” for a couple of days in lieu of paying for a hotel. The liberation of walking through those locked doors was almost palpable, transforming my outlook and opening up new possibilities.
Advent is always like that for me — and even more so this year, in the beginning days of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Scripture readings for Advent are full of promise, of God smoothing the way, straightening the paths, and opening all the locked doors of our own making. Beginning Dec. 8, the “Holy Door” of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome will be unsealed, becoming a “Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3). That open door, and those designated holy doors at diocesan cathedrals all over the world, will signal a time of release, liberation and transformation.
But it wouldn’t really be Advent without the desire for conversion and recognizing the need to do penance. (That’s one of the reasons we use the liturgical color violet in preparation for Christ’s coming). Advent prepares me to receive the bountiful mercy of God through the gift of his Incarnate Son — but not simply for my own benefit. I, who have received mercy, am also to become a “door of mercy” for others. And so during Advent, I reflect upon ways that I withhold forgiveness, or remain unmoved by another’s suffering, or continue to let my pride or anger or fear seal up that door that holds back the flood of Mercy who is Christ himself. I begin to examine how the traditional spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the admonition of Matthew 25, can become more fully manifest in my own attitudes and actions.
“Advent” means “coming.” And mercy — the love of God when it encounters the locked doors of human sin and suffering — is coming too. Get ready to walk through the door.