Holy doors may close but the experience will endure

As the Church Prays
Michael Podrebarac is the archdiocesan consultant for the liturgy office.

by Michael Podrebarac

On Sunday, Nov. 13, the Holy Doors of Mercy will close — in our six jubilee churches, that is.

Sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? The truth is, only the physical doors of these pilgrimage sites will be returned to their normal state. This is perhaps as it ought to be, since our churches are merely signs of something far greater than even the genius of engineering or artistic creation.

Jesus even suggests the same thing in the Gospel reading for that Sunday, when he tells his disciples: “All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down” (Lk 21:6).

Here, of course, he is speaking of the Temple, but what he says applies to our time as well. Stones and structures pass away, but the heart remains.

Likewise, the extraordinary jubilee Year of Mercy will conclude, but what was experienced, and learned, will endure.

Or will it?

It will if we have used this past year to learn more about the mercy of God, to learn how to apply that loving mercy to ourselves, and then to better learn how to offer it to others.

It will if there are at least a few less hungry people because of us, a few less homeless people, a few less people ignorant of the God of love and mercy, a few less people left behind in the unhappiness of their sin and their struggle for true freedom.

When the prodigal son returned home, his father embraced him and immediately restored to him all the signs of the sonship which he never really lost, but simply misplaced. He was clothed, shoed, honored with the mark of the family and given a tremendous feast.

But what happened after that? What happened after the party — that jubilee, if you will — was over?

Jesus doesn’t tell us in his famous parable. But I have a hunch that, if the newly restored son truly got what was happening, he then did the following, even if ever-so-gradually (for sometimes rehabilitation takes a little while, even under the expert tutelage of a loving father): He believed that he was truly loved, simply for who he was. He understood why he should have always loved such a loving father. He experienced “perfect” contrition for having offended such a father deserving of all his love. He grew closer to his older brother (and his older brother grew closer to him). He knew, perhaps for the first time, genuine freedom, perfect joy and true peace.

And he became a witness for mercy.

How about us? Will the doors simply close on Nov. 13, the experience to be forgotten, business as usual?

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