Pope Francis Wednesday centered his weekly catechesis on the upcoming Year of Mercy, urging the Church not only to keep its doors open, but to go out to those who may not have the strength to enter.
“An inhospitable Church, like a family which is locked in on itself, demeans the Gospel and withers up the world,” the Pope said Nov. 18 to attendees at his general audience in the Vatican. “No armored doors in the Church! Open all of them!”
Pope Francis delivered his address in St. Peter's Square, in front the basilica where the Holy Door – which he described as the “great door of God's Mercy” – will be opened Dec. 8 to mark the official start of the Jubilee of Mercy.
While this door will be opened to everyone to offer grace of forgiveness, the Pope said we also must have the courage to enter.
“We are all sinners. May we take advantage of this moment and cross the threshold of of this mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving.”
Turning his reflection to last month's Synod on the Family, the Pope spoke on how the Church is called to reach out to those who are lost and uncertain, and how Christian families, especially, are encouraged to enter this door in order to receive God's blessing and friendship.
“If the door of God's mercy is always open,” we must leave the doors of our institutions open so that “we can go out carrying God's mercy.”
This, the Pope said, is the meaning meaning of the Jubilee: “Letting the Lord enter and go out.”
While the invitation is always present, God never forces us to enter, Pope Francis continued.
Citing the book of Revelation, in which those who open their homes when they hear the Lord knocking, the Pope said “Even he asks permission to enter … and does not force open the door.”
The Roman Pontiff observed it has become the norm in many places to always keep our doors locked.
While there is a need for security, this locking of doors shouldn't apply to all areas of our life, be it family life, our cities, society – and especially the Church.
Acknowledging the need for safety, Pope Francis said the Church, as well as homes, should open their doors often, in case “there is someone outside waiting, and who perhaps lacks the courage, or even the strength to knock.”
The Roman Pontiff said the Lord, as our Shepherd, protects his sheep, allowing us to enter and exit without fear.
“Jesus is the door whereby we enter and go out, because the God's sheepfold is a safehaven, not a prison!” the Pope said.
He added: “The Church is the caretaker of God's house, not its owner!”
Pope Francis concluded his address by reflecting how the Holy Family understands the significance of doors that are opened and closed, especially for “those expecting a child, those who have no safe haven, those who must from danger.”
“May Christian families make the threshold of their homes a small sign of the great door of God's mercy and welcome.”
Later in the audience, Pope Francis issued two appeals, one stressing the importance of child protection, and the other celebrating the mission of cloistered religious brothers and sisters.
The appeals come ahead of the the Nov. 20 World Day of the Rights of the Child and the Nov. 21 Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.
“It is everybody's duty to protect children,” the Pope said, and to ensure “they are never subjected to any form of slavery or abuse.”
The Pope called on the international community to remain vigilant in protecting children from poor living conditions, especially those in regions where they are susceptible to military recruitment, and to support families in helping their children obtain an education.
Pope Francis also celebrated the unique mission of the contemplative life, using the Presentation of Our Lady as an opportunity to “thanking the Lord for the gift of the vocation of men and women who, in monasteries and hermitages, have dedicated their lives to God.”
“In order for cloistered communities to accomplish their important mission, in prayer and silent work, let us not be lacking in our spiritual and material closeness to them.”
Among the groups he greeted following the audience was the Polish trade union Solidarity, whose activities helped lead to the fall of communism in the Eastern bloc.
Pope Francis commended Solidarity for its protection of the rights of persons and society, telling them: “Be faithful to this commitment, so that political or economic interests do not prevail over the values which constitute the essence of human solidarity. I commend you and all members of the Union to the protection of your patron, Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko, and I cordially bless you. Praised be Jesus Christ!”