Do I get an indulgence for walking out a holy door? Our diocese has a few holy doors for this Year of Mercy, and one is in my parish. I think of the great graces I have the chance to receive on a weekly basis as I go to Sunday Mass, and I always try to enter through the doors intentionally. Father has an icon of the face of Christ set up as you come through the door, allowing you to meditate on the face of the Father’s mercy. Leaving the church, however, it always seems like I’m going backwards. The door is a side door that was closed up and not used before this year, and with the door now being open, I usually duck out it to avoid the congestion around the main doors. More than once I’ve thought how I’m sneaking out the holy door and wondered if there was an indulgence attached to that…

The Archbishop of Halifax-Yarmouth was addressing a group of parish leaders last week at a conference and brought up an interesting and important image. He was talking about going out from our church buildings and seeking the lost, and he said, “We all have holy doors, all over the world, for people to come in. But we have to also use those holy doors so that we can get out, and be the missionary disciples that the world needs at this time.” (Bishop Anthony Mancini, Bishop of Halifax-Yarmouth)

This past Sunday, the Archbishop’s words were with me as I walked out, and I left with the same intentionality as I came in the doors. I am leaving through these doors of grace to be an instrument of God’s grace to others.

Another set of holy doors in my diocese is the front door of our Cathedral, a beautiful Italianate church on a busy city street. Due to some space and other restrictions, when he officially opened the door before Mass on the third Sunday of Advent, our Bishop actually opened it from the inside. While the necessary switch seemed a little backwards at the time, with Archbishop’s remarks in mind, now it seems quite fitting. While we are all in need of walking through the door of mercy to come into the sanctuary of God’s house, we come in order to leave again and bring others into the doors.

Pope Francis has spoken frequently about the need for us to go out into the streets and to the peripheries, most recently this past weekend when he addressed the Pontifical Council for the Laity. He called for an “outbound” laity in a Church that is “permanently outgoing.” He reminded us that the we must be “an evangelizing community that knows how to take the initiative without fear, to reach out to others, to seek out those who are distant and to reach out to crossroads, to invite in the excluded.” The Church is “the house of the Father where the doors are always wide open to each person, with his or her weary life.”

It can be tempting to be a community that remains inside. Perhaps somedays you feel like you can barely get yourself together, much less bring others to Christ. We feel safe in our own communities, content and comfortable. But while we’re called to remain in that peace and that community, we’re also called to go out. When Christ called his twelve apostles, the Gospel of Mark tells us, “He appointed twelve, to be with him and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:14). They probably would have preferred to just be with him! But they weren’t given the grace to be with him simply for themselves; they were given the graces so that they could go out. Pope Francis reminds us that we have been given this gift of faith, and that gift does not remain uniquely ours – it propels us outward, to share what we have received.

This is why in this country it’s so vital that we have the freedom of religion, not just the freedom of worship. Our faith doesn’t belong only inside a church building, but it belongs in the streets, in our workplaces, in our families. It doesn’t mean that worship isn’t important; in fact, what happens inside that church building is the most important thing on this earth. But we believe the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith. It’s not only where all our actions lead, it’s also where we get the strength to do what needs to be done in the world.

During this Fortnight for Freedom, established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2012, which annually calls us to pray, fast, and celebrate the gift of religious freedom, we are reminded of the gift we have as Americans to live our faith in the public square. May we never take that right for granted, and may we fight to defend that right wherever it is threatened. Our faith does not remain inside the doors of the church; our faith does not remain something we do on Sunday. It sends us forth, to serve our brothers and sisters, to bring them home to the house of God.

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