By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service     11/18/2015

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Because God always keeps open the door of his mercy and offer of salvation to everyone, the doors of every church and every Christian heart must never be closed to others, Pope Francis said.

All over the world, individual Christians and the whole church must be seen as “the hospitality of a God who never shuts the door in your face with the excuse that you’re not part of the family,” he said during his weekly general audience Nov. 18.

The pope dedicated his catechesis to the symbol of the Holy Door, which will be opened at St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 8 to mark the start of the extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy.

Holy doors around the world represent the “great door of God’s mercy” and are generously opened to receive people’s repentance and offer the grace of God’s forgiveness, he said.

The recent Synod of Bishops on the family was an occasion to encourage the church and all Catholics to meet God at this open door and to open their own doors to others — “to go out with the Lord” to encounter his children who are journeying, who are perhaps uncertain, perhaps lost, “in these difficult times,” he said.

“If the door of God’s mercy is always open, the doors of our churches, our love, our communities, our parishes, our institutions, our dioceses also must be open so that we all can go out to bring God’s mercy” to others, he said.

The jubilee year also represents the need to open the many small doors in everyone’s life so that “the Lord can come in or, many times, to let out the Lord imprisoned by our structures, our selfishness,” the pope said. “The jubilee means to let the Lord come in and go out.”

Don’t let the fact that so many homes and businesses deadbolt their doors for security reasons influence one’s personal approach to life, he said.

“We must not succumb to the idea of having to apply this system to our whole life, to family life,” to life in the city and community and much less to church life, he said.

“It would be terrible. An inhospitable church — just like a family closed inside itself — mortifies the Gospel and parches dry the world. No bolted doors in the church. None. Everything open,” he said to applause.

The symbolism of how a door is opened, how Jesus always knocks and asks permission to come in, “he never forces open the door” of one’s heart, is crucial, the pope said. The door is watched over and safeguarded by a custodian, but it is never slammed shut on anyone.

“The door is opened frequently in order to see if there is anyone outside waiting and perhaps doesn’t have the courage, perhaps not even the strength, to knock,” he said.

“These people have lost trust, they don’t have the courage to knock on the doors of our Christian hearts, the doors of our churches, and there they are — they don’t have the courage, we took away their trust,” Pope Francis said. “Please, this must never happen anymore.”

How people watch over this door says a lot about the church and the community, he said, so how one cares for “the doorway” calls for great discernment and must inspire confidence and trust in people on the outside.

Pope Francis said people can learn from concierges, porters and doormen around the world, who always smile and make people feel welcome and at home. Thanking them for their work, he said the astuteness and politeness they display right at the entrance set the tone for the whole building.

Jesus is the door and the good shepherd whose sheep hear, recognize and follow him, the pope said referring to chapter 10 of the Gospel of St. John.

Like the sheepfold, where God’s people are gathered, the pope said, “the house of God is a shelter, not a prison.” Jesus is the gate that lets people go in “without fear and go out without danger.”

The role of the gatekeeper is to listen to the shepherd, to open the door and to let in all the sheep, “all of them, including the ones that were lost in the wilderness that the good shepherd went to bring back. The gatekeeper does not choose the sheep, the parish secretary doesn’t choose them,” the pope said. “All the sheep are invited. They are chosen by the good shepherd.”

The gatekeeper, that is, everyone in the church, must obey the voice of God and remember “the church is the custodian of the Lord’s house, not the master of the Lord’s house.”

The pope also said that it takes courage to “cross the threshold” and accept God’s invitation.

“Each one of us has something that weighs on us inside, right? We are all sinners,” he said. “Let us take advantage of this moment that is coming and cross the threshold of this mercy of God who never tires of forgiving, who never tires of waiting for us, who looks upon us and is always by our side. Courage! Let’s enter through this door.”