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An open door - the door open

for you to come and know God's mercy

 

THE INTERIM PRIEST ADMINISTRATOR’S LETTER

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift;

Those words from a poem by Frances Chesterton get us to imagine the door of the house where Mary and Joseph were caring for her new-born Son. A simple door, perhaps rather like the door of the stable. The poem invites us to enter through that modest door, but to find there, in fact, the doors of heaven flung wide open.

That’s an image that will strike a chord with every pilgrim to Walsingham. The simple, unassuming door of the Holy House takes us into the vast space of this truth: that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that through Mary’s child we are invited to enter the wide open door of life with God in eternity. There is God’s reckless invitation to all to come into the Kingdom of heaven.

As we find at the Holy House God’s door flung open in a gesture towards us to come in and share his life, so we are challenged to make a like response, and to open the doors of our hearts to him. But the opening of our heart is not always easy is it? Hearts are vulnerable. They get wounded, sometimes broken. Why should you and I open our hearts to God? What is the basis for our trust? For surely we don’t open the doors of our hearts unless we absolutely trust the one to whom we open them?

As we step through the door into the Holy House again we look at that venerable image of Our Lady of Walsingham and the child she holds out to us. Then beneath them, on the altar we see the cross. There, in those two signs, is utter love. A love that is totally undeserved and which is completely impossible to earn. A love that is simply there. Always accepting, always compassionate, always merciful, and always embracing us just as we are –warts and all. There is the God we can trust, and so we can fling wide open the door of our hearts in response.

But we can’t leave it there. The open door of the Holy House, and the open door of our hearts calls us beyond ourselves. For we are part of something bigger –the body of Christ, and the Church is called to imitate the open door to eternity God gives us in Jesus. 

This call has been brought in to sharp focus by the invitation of Pope Francis to make this a Holy Year, a ‘Year of Mercy’. One of the distinctive elements of the year is the symbolic opening of ‘holy doors’ to speak of our entry into a new place –moving from alienation and condemnation into that place marked by grace, mercy and love. Could there be a more wonderful way to spend this year than celebrating that loving mercy of the Lord, and sharing it with others?

As I begin my time as Interim Priest Administrator I’m conscious of our role here to be those who ‘open the door’ for you. Our hope and prayer here (as Bishop Martin has written on the Shrine website) is that in this place you will encounter that loving mercy of God –in worship and stillness, through word and sacrament, through the ministry of healing and the assurance of sins forgiven. God has set this place apart as somewhere those gifts of mercy can be experienced in abundance, and I feel hugely privileged to be able to minister here again for a season.

Here in Walsingham Mary shows us what a life touched by the mercy of God can do. “The Almighty has done great things for me,” she sings with her cousin Elizabeth, “he has mercy on those who fear him, from generation to generation”. She knows the mercy of God’s calling, she opens her heart to God’s will, she rejoices at how his grace is working through her, and shows all of us that the mercy of God will bring us to his heavenly glory. Mary is truly the Mother of Mercy, and a wonderful friend for us to have as we walk through the door into the new territory of God’s kingdom.

We’re holding the door open for you to come and know God’s mercy. But, in the right sense, we’re also holding it open as you leave. We’re invited to go out in service, and to live the mercy we experience ourselves. In the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare says that mercy is “twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” So how do we display the mercy of God in the way we treat each other? In the way we talk about each other? In the way we operate? Do we base our relationships on empathy and compassion and kinship so that we are becoming Christ-like? Are we prepared to be ‘twice blessed’ by this gift of God –not just receiving it, but showing it to others?

“Here is the little door”: The open door of the Kingdom of heaven in God’s reckless hospitality; the open door of our hearts and lives to let in the Lord; and the open door through which we pass to live the mercy we have received.

As the new pilgrimage season begins, we invite you to “lift up the latch, O lift.”

With my prayers and best wishes,
Fr. Philip Barnes

 


A Letter from the Master of the Guardians and the former Administrator regarding the creation of the Ordinariate. Click here to read and/or print.


 
   

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