Passing through the Door of Mercy
Doorways are a powerful image for certain points in our lives. In the work we do, we often find ourselves sitting with someone in front of a big scary door, behind which lies a myriad of pains they have been resistant to address: disappointments, anger, grief, addiction, doubt, fear. There we sit, coaxing them to face whatever lurks behind the door and to have the courage to bring things into the light.
Yet other times we stand with people on the threshold of a door of positive change: a move towards healing, a move to a new place, or a change of direction in their vocation. Though full of the unknown, these thresholds hold much hope and anticipation of new life and experiences.
This year I’ve been exploring a different door image. Pope Francis in December named 2016 to be a year of Jubilee, declaring this year as “The Year of Mercy.” St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and many Catholic churches around the world have consecrated a doorway to be a designated a “Door of Mercy.” People are invited to come to the door in a spirit of repentance, to confess a particular sin that has had significant consequences, and to receive cleansing. Then they walk through the doorway receiving a special dispensation of God’s mercy. (This is my non-Catholic summary, so you best read more about it here. Or read Pope Francis’ beautiful words of invitation at the opening of the Holy Door.)
I enjoy dipping my toes in other streams of the Christian faith to bring new life into my faith practices, and the image of passing through the doorway of mercy has resonated deeply. While I may not agree with (or understand) all that is behind the Catholic views on these sacred doors, at the very least, they are a beautiful symbol of humility and the reception of grace. In their intended form, these consecrated doorways become a place of significant spiritual transaction.
Repentance isn’t exactly a feel-good term. It reminds us of our short-comings, and too often is tainted by shame and condemnation. But there is a difference between the conviction of sin which comes from the Spirit of God, full of the undertones of love and kindness, and condemnation which is a dripping with accusations and shame. Repentance is a healthy heart response to a movement of God in our lives.
Years ago I read that we can learn to “cultivate a lifestyle of repentance” because we don’t just confess our sins once. Repentance is a necessary discipline that realigns the eyes of our hearts to see ourselves, others, and God in their proper perspective: I am broken. You are broken. God is merciful.
Just as the health gurus encourage regular forms of body cleansing and detox, so our hearts need regular times of spiritual housecleaning from clutter and junk that is interfering with our relationship with God. In fact, even secular mental health professionals sometimes assign “forgiveness” exercises as they have seen firsthand the freedom and healing that takes place in both the giving and receiving of forgiveness. In other words, confession is good for you.
Here are some different ways to approach repentance:
Confess for yourself…. Spend some time confessing places of anger, hatred, bitterness, fear, unbelief, overindulgence, and indifference. Visit a house of worship as a gift of gratitude and worship. Find a nearby Catholic church with a consecrated Door of Mercy, spend some time there in confession (by yourself or with a priest), and walk through the consecrated Door of Mercy. Find a friend to whom you can confess what you have done. Write on paper a list of the burdens of guilt you are carrying, offer the list to God, asking for His forgiveness. Repentance can be as simple as a heartfelt whisper, “Forgive me, God. I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”
Confess on behalf of your family…. In our individualistic western perspective, we view repentance as a personal exercise, but throughout the Bible, we see men and women repenting on behalf of their families. Think through some of the places you see the repeated patterns passed from parents to children, generational sins of pride, independence, sexual immorality, unbelief, greed, or passivity. Confess these places to God and ask Him to show you how to start a new path away from that form of bondage towards freedom.
Confess on behalf of your nation… There’s not a nation on earth that isn’t in need of repentance. We all participate in forms of corporate or collective sin (knowingly and unknowingly), and there is power in using our authority as citizens to plead for mercy on our nations. Picture yourself standing between your nation and God, confessing the sins you see unique to your country: dishonesty, exploitation, pride, racism, lust, unbelief, rebellion, despair. Plead for His mercy on this generation and the generations to come.
Confess on behalf of the church… Each era of church history reveals the Church struggling with certain strongholds of their times and region; no church structure is immune from the need for confession. The American church is undergoing a significant season of purification. We must confess the places we ourselves have participated in division, indifference, indulgence, racism, judgement, and fear. Move away from the us/them mentality and focus on the “us”— we have some house cleaning to do.
The good news is that confession is not the end! The Christian God is described as RICH in mercy. The millisecond that you turn your face towards Him in confession, He will lavish you with love and mercy. His Spirit offers you a cleansing like you’ve never had before. He takes your heart of stone and replaces it with a beating heart of flesh. He places a crown of lovingkindness on your heads and pulls you from the darkness into the Kingdom of Light! Then He seals your spirit with the Holy Spirit and you begin the journey of discovering how to harness this divine power to live more fully into who God made you to be. It’s crazy good!
What makes the Year of Mercy so significant is that the next ‘official’ Year of Jubilee in the Catholic church was not supposed to be scheduled until 2025. For some reason, the Pope sensed the urgency to invite others to receive God’s mercy THIS year. Nearly every stream of the Christian faith is speaking of an urgency to return to God. Contrary to what the world may tell you, casting ourselves on God’s mercy is the safest place to build our lives and nations.
As I watched each of my family members this week make a sacred passageway through the Doors of Mercy at Notre Dame and Sacred Heart Cathedrals in Paris, I was struck with the extraordinary simplicity and uniqueness of Christianity. We do nothing but turn, confess, trust, and receive. God does everything, purchasing our passage through the very life of His Son.
This Easter week, my prayer is that each of you might see yourself at the threshold of a doorway. Perhaps you are making the passage towards mercy for the first time. Or perhaps your passage is simply reconnecting with God or starting to explore what it means to cultivate a lifestyle of repentance or seeking a fresh outpouring of mercy in your life. No matter what your invitation, may you step through the Door of Mercy (literally or figuratively) and receive the lavish mercy of your Father in heaven. I promise, this will be an Easter you won’t forget.
A prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer:
Most Merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed.
By what we have done, and what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole hearts.
We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.
We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus,
have mercy on us and forgive us,
that we may delight in your will and walk in your way
to the glory of your name, forever.