an open-door policy

Aug 9, 2013

It’s pretty clear that today’s second reading is about FAITH. Take a moment to recall the eleventh chapter of Hebrews:
  • Only FAITH can guarantee the blessings that we hope for…
  • It was for FAITH that our ancestors were commended.
  • It was by FAITH that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a foreign land,..and by FAITH he arrived…
  • It was equally by FAITH that Sarah conceived…
  • All these died in FAITH…
  • It was by FAITH that Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac…
I think it’s reasonable to assume that today’s second reading is about…FAITH!

I have been thinking a bit about faith this week in the light of the Year of Faith. In a couple of days it will be 100 days before this year of faith draws to a conclusion. This will be marked in our own diocese with the FAITHFEST celebrations on the Feast of Christ the King.

On the 49th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (11 October 2011). Pope Benedict called for a Year of Faith to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Council. The letter he wrote on this occasion was entitled, “Porta Fidei”, that is, “The Door of Faith.”  

The pope begins the letter by assuring us that “The door of FAITH is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.” He continues reminding us that we live FAITHfully when we allow our hearts to be shaped by “transforming grace,” and that this is a journey that begins in baptism.

And then there were a couple more things that deepened my reflection on faith this week. Let me take a moment to share these.

This week I have been reading a collection of homilies, letters and addresses of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis). One of these was a reflection he wrote to encourage the people of his diocese of Buenos Aires almost twelve months ago at the start of the Year of Faith. He begins:
“Among the most striking experiences of the past few decades is the experience of encountering locked doors. Little by little, increasing insecurity has driven us to bolt our doors, hire protection services, install security cameras, and glance with mistrust at strangers who come to our doors. 
Nonetheless, there are still some villages where people leave their doors open. The closed door is really a symbol of our day. It is something more than a simple sociological fact; it is an existential reality that has imposed itself as a way of life. It has become away of confronting reality, other people, and the future. 
The bolted door of my house, the setting of my intimate life, my dreams, hopes, sufferings, and moments of happiness, is locked against others… 
…The image of an open door has always been a symbol of life, friendship, happiness, freedom and trust, How we need to recover these things! 
…As the Year of Faith begins, paradoxically, the image that Pope Benedict XVI proposes is that of a door, one through which we must pass to be able to find what we need so badly…     

And as if that was not enough to get me thinking about FAITH and doors, I then read a piece blogged by a priest of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch. Bosco Peters this week blogged:
As I travel I stop and visit church buildings…Recently, on my holiday, I stopped at four…church buildings in different townships…  
First stop…a big notice board facing the street. No service times. Next to the word “contact”, a small white board had been added (covering, I presume, a previous contact option) so that it was blank. The church building was locked.  
Second stop…The garden was beautifully kept; someone had been tending it in recent days. A glass notice board with nothing in it was attached to the locked door of the building.  
Third and fourth stops…The church buildings (I know you are surprised!): locked.“  www.liturgy.co.nz

One of the key points of Denis McNamara’s church architecture presentation in Christchurch last week was that a church building is not just a “skin” for liturgical action. Denis writes in the Press interview:
“To build a church properly, one needs to understand what a church is as a sacrament of the world glorified and reunited with God. And this requires knowledge of salvation history, sacramental theology, the theology of the sacred image, the Temple of Solomon, the heritage of the synagogue, the theology of Mystical Body of Christ, how to anticipate our own heavenly future and why all of this matters to the person in the pew. 
And then the architect must have a deep grounding in traditional architecture and respect for precedent. Only in this way can we make something new which is as good or better than what the past has given us. 
There is no need to copy exactly from the past, but there is no need to substitute the word “modern” for ignorance of theological principles. This expectation should fill architects and clients with awe and maybe a little bit of fear at what they are being asked to do. But it has been done before and it is possible to do it again.

So if the church building itself is a “sacrament” that therefore tells us something about God and God’s method of relating with the world, a church building with closed and locked doors is something of a counter-sign. Wouldn’t it be better if we allowed our churches to be clear signs of the open invitation that God extends to all people? We could do this simply by, wherever and whenever possible, having the doors visibly open, at least during daylight hours. Perhaps a notice outside proclaiming “open all day” would advertise the invitation even more clearly.

Each community of parishioners will know if or how it would be possible to keep the doors of the church open as a sign invitation to faith. It might take a bit of organising to arrange who is to unlock and lock each day. But churches that are always open attract more casual visitors looking for a place to pray. And these churches are a much more clear sign that…

“…The door of FAITH is always open for us, 
ushering us into the life of communion with God
and offering entry into his Church.”




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