The Way of Beauty A Reflection on Doors

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In Roman mythology, Janus represents not only the god of doors and doorways but also the god of beginnings and endings. Janus is a two-faced god.  One face looks to the past, the other, to the future. Thus, the month of January.

Doors open, close, and revolve. There are holy doors.  An open door points to a new beginning, a way out, or a welcome to enter.  It may also show a path to what lies ahead.  A closed door may symbolize a dead end or imprisonment, or it may signal 'do not disturb.' In Dante's  "Inferno," Part One of his "Divine Comedy," the frightening verse hangs over the gates of hell:  "Abandon hope, all you who enter here." (Lasciate ogni speranza, voí ch'entrate, Canto iii).  Revolving doors signify mindless circular motion, no exit.  

Doors and Psychoanalysis

In the Hitchcock's movie "Spellbound" starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, a man's self-inflicted guilt from childhood must be interpreted.  This is done through psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane.  Analysts seek only to induce their patients to talk about hidden problems. Certain questions are posed to them: 'Why are you repeating something that is self-destructive behavior?  When did it start, and why?'  Once patients can answer these questions, their locked doors can be opened, and they can begin the road to recovery.

Biblical Doors

For today's Jews, placing the mezuzot to the right of their door posts reminds them of their divine deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  God was faithful to his promise and saved them in his way, not theirs. It was important for Jews never to forget that God is a God who saves. The mezuzah is a reminder of this great truth. 

A Theology of a Holy Door 

This long introduction about doors is meant to shed light on the meaning of a holy door.  Since the fifteenth century, a holy door or porta sancta has been used as a liturgical symbol for conversion of heart.  Pilgrims pass through the holy door as an expression of leaving behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace, from slavery to freedom, and from darkness to light.  Here the link to the Jews is evident. For the Christian, the door derives its meaning from Jesus Christ who is the door, the gate, "the way" to life (Jn 14:6).  

The Holy Door of Mercy

The Jubilee Year of Mercy 2015-2016 began on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In Rome, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica to mark the beginning of the Jubilee Year. Major events and celebrations are planned in Rome and throughout the Catholic world for particular groups.

Jesus himself was the face of mercy.  His encounters and the parables reveal his mercy-the Woman Caught in Adultery, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Good Shepherd. At the end of a long day with crowds, he had compassion on them because they had nothing to eat or drink; he multiplied the loaves and fish.  His compassion extended to untouchable lepers as well as to the rich and powerful. His compassion embraced all and excluded none.

This Holy Year of Mercy is intended to be lived as a pilgrimage. During the Holy Year of Mercy, men and women of good will are asked to intensify their prayer for all in need of mercy and for making personal sacrifices to this end. Making a pilgrimage, partially on foot, to a cathedral church is also encouraged.   Pope Francis has called Catholics and others to wear the mantle of mercy first toward themselves and then toward a world in need of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Furthermore, to practice them as Jesus did.

Seeing Mercy in Action

Mercy, Pope Francis has observed, is the heartbeat of the Gospels.  In fact, there are at least thirty-five specific references to the words 'merciful' and 'mercy' in the Bible with several more made to compassion and pity.  Some of these references are provided for the reader's prayer: (Merciful) Gen 19:16; 1 Kings 20:31; Ps 86:31; Jon 4:2; Mt 5:7; Lk 6:36; Heb 8:14;  (Mercy) Gen 42:14; Ex 33:19; Deut 7:2; 1 Chron 21:13; Neh 1:11; Ps 51:1; 103:4; Jer 31:20; 42:12; Lam 3:33; Dan 2:18; Hab 3:2; Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13; 12:7; 15;33; 20:30; 23:23; Mk 5:19; Lk 1:50; 1:72; 10:37; 16:34; 18: 38; Rom 9:15; 9:23; 11:30; 2 Cor 4:1; Phil 2:27.

When Pope Francis washes the feet of prisoners, or when he embraces patients with AIDS, what are we to conclude?  When he opens a 30-bed homeless shelter a few steps from the Vatican, when he builds showers for the homeless near St. Peter's Square, and when he makes a barbershop available to men-what can we conclude?  

When the Pontiff donates funds for the poor to enjoy cultural excursions to the Sistine Chapel and to the Holy Shroud in Turin, what are we to surmise?  He wants them to feel good about themselves and to feel their self-worth. Here we see mercy in action. Mercy prompts one to walk in the shoes of the neighbor, trying to grasp what that person is experiencing, and then, with heartfelt kindness, to help that person. Clearly, Pope Francis has the authority and the power to extend a special kind of mercy to the poor. 

More in The Way of Beauty

The Pontiff's actions in Rome may have prompted leaders of a group entitled, #OpenTheseDoors, to send a letter to Cardinal Dolan demanding that the "real doors" of empty church-owned buildings be opened immediately to help alleviate the crisis of homelessness in Manhattan. Here, almost 60,000 people spend their nights in shelters. These advocates are responding to the Pope's recent call for adequate housing for the homeless.  For this reason, their strident tone may be excused and interpreted as zeal for a worthy cause. 

Shakespeare's Mercy

Portia's sonnet from "The Merchant of Venice" gives us Shakespeare's thoughts on mercy:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. 

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