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Doors feature prominently in western culture in both utilitarian and symbolic ways. As strictly useful items, they keep the weather and the unwanted out. They provide privacy and security. As symbols they are much more ambiguous: they offer newness, possibility and freedom; but they also shut out, prevent contact, and limit one’s vision and experience. The church has used doors both as functional and symbolic. They are usually quite prominent in church buildings: sacred portals which delineate a sacred space. They do keep the elements out, but hopefully also open wide to welcome the faithful, the stranger and the penitent. For over 500 years the Church has also been using the door as a potent symbol to commemorate its years of jubilee. For the Church this “holy door” is anything but ambiguous; it is a clear symbol that this door represents an opportunity, it is a threshold to newness and life. This door represents Christ himself, for he said, “I am the door” (John 10:9). We have recently begun a special jubilee year, inaugurated by Pope Francis: a year of mercy. The Pope feels that we all—faithful and the human family in general—need a reminder that the mystery of God’s mercy is “a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace.” Jesus is both the face of God’s mercy and the door to God’s mercy. As a symbol of this, Pope Francis has decreed that in every diocese, not just at the Vatican, there will be a Door of Mercy designated to lead people to a direct and physical encounter with God’s mercy. Bishops have also been given the right to designate other churches or shrines within their dioceses to have Doors of Mercy. Bishop Kagan, here in the Diocese of Bismarck, designated Assumption Abbey/St. Mary’s as one of the churches for this holy year. There are basically three aspects to the understanding and living of God’s mercy. First, we must recognize and accept the reality of God’s mercy. We must above all acknowledge God’s mercy as real, as available, as necessary. Second, we should be sorry for the ways in which we have not lived according to God’s plan for us as revealed in Jesus Christ and mediated through scripture and the Church, and humbly seek God’s mercy and endeavor to amend in the future. Finally, the foundation of Christian revelation is love of God and love of neighbor, so the mercy of God should be accepted and lived out. We receive God’s mercy and share it with others. The Sunday gospels during the Lenten season provide insights and examples for us who try to experience and live God’s mercy. The following is a brief overview of the gospels for the Sundays of Lent. They do bear further reflection and meditation. What is offered here is merely a “starter.” On the first Sunday of Lent, the gospel always relates the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Here we are presented with the face of God’s mercy in all its humanity. Here we meet the extent and depth of God’s mercy—he loves us so much he sends his only Son to assume our fallen, broken, tempted nature. There is nothing of our experience that Jesus does not know, except sin. The next week we meet the face of God in his divinity as the gospel account relates the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. The Church, in her wisdom, pairs these two sides of Jesus: the fully human and the fully divine. We know him both as one of us and as the totally Other. God, in his compassion, reaches out to us in all our frailty and at the same time, remains the omnipotent God who loves us with infinite care, understanding and compassion.  On the following Sunday, the third week of Lent, the gospel passage tells the story of the barren fig tree. Given a reprieve, the fig tree is allowed, with cultivation, to produce fruit in the future. We are the fig tree. We are given time to repent, to return again to God from our sinfulness and our selfishness. With God’s grace, our humble efforts, and receptivity, we can bear fruit for God and neighbor. The fourth Sunday of Lent provides us with one of the most loved and famous of gospel parables—the tale of the prodigal son. Coming as it does in the middle of Lent, it offers a complete picture of the focus of this year of mercy. The father in the story represents God the Father’s mercy for us. The younger son, who has squandered his inheritance in dissolute living, represents all of us who have sinned and returned in repentance to our Father. The older son should not be disregarded. He stands for all of us who at various times are resentful, sullen, unwelcoming, isolated, narrow. God’s love and mercy reach out to both of his sons. Our Christian lives should mirror that and reach out to all our brothers and sisters. The following Sunday, the fifth of Lent, we have a similar story: the woman caught in adultery. Here Jesus embodies God’s mercy in forgiving the woman—but that mercy actually extends further. Jesus does not condemn those who have accused and come to stone the woman. He places before them the ugly reality of judgmentalism. Mercy is directly opposed to our sitting in judgment on others—judgment is God’s prerogative, and his judgment is always tempered by his great mercy. Herein lies a lesson for all of us. The last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, provides us with the ultimate lesson and picture of mercy—God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son who was obedient even to the point of death. If we had any doubts about the fathomless depths of God’s mercy after traversing the Sunday gospels of Lent, this final one should lay aside all doubts. In the account of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, we encounter our God who is willing to give himself totally for the forgiveness of our sins, for our redemption. Our prayer for you this Lent is that you may encounter God’s mercy in your personal life and may share it with others. Let’s beat a path to this door—Jesus Christ. As we enter this door, physically or spiritually, a new life of grace and faith awaits us. This door represents an opportunity to leave the past behind, encounter God in his rich mercy and follow the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The Door of Mercy

by Br. Alban Petesch, OSB
Spiritual Reflections
Doors feature prominently in western culture in both utilitarian and symbolic ways. As strictly useful items, they keep the weather and the unwanted out. They provide privacy and security. As symbols they are much more ambiguous: they offer newness, possibility and freedom; but they also shut out, prevent contact, and limit one’s vision and experience. The church has used doors both as functional and symbolic. They are usually quite prominent in church buildings: sacred portals which delineate a sacred space. They do keep the elements out, but hopefully also open wide to welcome the faithful, the stranger and the penitent. For over 500 years the Church has also been using the door as a potent symbol to commemorate its years of jubilee. For the Church this “holy door” is anything but ambiguous; it is a clear symbol that this door represents an opportunity, it is a threshold to newness and life. This door represents Christ himself, for he said, “I am the door” (John 10:9). We have recently begun a special jubilee year, inaugurated by Pope Francis: a year of mercy. The Pope feels that we all—faithful and the human family in general—need a reminder that the mystery of God’s mercy is “a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace.” Jesus is both the face of God’s mercy and the door to God’s mercy. As a symbol of this, Pope Francis has decreed that in every diocese, not just at the Vatican, there will be a Door of Mercy designated to lead people to a direct and physical encounter with God’s mercy. Bishops have also been given the right to designate other churches or shrines within their dioceses to have Doors of Mercy. Bishop Kagan, here in the Diocese of Bismarck, designated Assumption Abbey/St. Mary’s as one of the churches for this holy year. There are basically three aspects to the understanding and living of God’s mercy. First, we must recognize and accept the reality of God’s mercy. We must above all acknowledge God’s mercy as real, as available, as necessary. Second, we should be sorry for the ways in which we have not lived according to God’s plan for us as revealed in Jesus Christ and mediated through scripture and the Church, and humbly seek God’s mercy and endeavor to amend in the future. Finally, the foundation of Christian revelation is love of God and love of neighbor, so the mercy of God should be accepted and lived out. We receive God’s mercy and share it with others. The Sunday gospels during the Lenten season provide insights and examples for us who try to experience and live God’s mercy. The following is a brief overview of the gospels for the Sundays of Lent. They do bear further reflection and meditation. What is offered here is merely a “starter.” On the first Sunday of Lent, the gospel always relates the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Here we are presented with the face of God’s mercy in all its humanity. Here we meet the extent and depth of God’s mercy—he loves us so much he sends his only Son to assume our fallen, broken, tempted nature. There is nothing of our experience that Jesus does not know, except sin. The next week we meet the face of God in his divinity as the gospel account relates the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. The Church, in her wisdom, pairs these two sides of Jesus: the fully human and the fully divine. We know him both as one of us and as the totally Other. God, in his compassion, reaches out to us in all our frailty and at the same time, remains the omnipotent God who loves us with infinite care, understanding and compassion.  On the following Sunday, the third week of Lent, the gospel passage tells the story of the barren fig tree. Given a reprieve, the fig tree is allowed, with cultivation, to produce fruit in the future. We are the fig tree. We are given time to repent, to return again to God from our sinfulness and our selfishness. With God’s grace, our humble efforts, and receptivity, we can bear fruit for God and neighbor. The fourth Sunday of Lent provides us with one of the most loved and famous of gospel parables—the tale of the prodigal son. Coming as it does in the middle of Lent, it offers a complete picture of the focus of this year of mercy. The father in the story represents God the Father’s mercy for us. The younger son, who has squandered his inheritance in dissolute living, represents all of us who have sinned and returned in repentance to our Father. The older son should not be disregarded. He stands for all of us who at various times are resentful, sullen, unwelcoming, isolated, narrow. God’s love and mercy reach out to both of his sons. Our Christian lives should mirror that and reach out to all our brothers and sisters. The following Sunday, the fifth of Lent, we have a similar story: the woman caught in adultery. Here Jesus embodies God’s mercy in forgiving the woman—but that mercy actually extends further. Jesus does not condemn those who have accused and come to stone the woman. He places before them the ugly reality of judgmentalism. Mercy is directly opposed to our sitting in judgment on others—judgment is God’s prerogative, and his judgment is always tempered by his great mercy. Herein lies a lesson for all of us. The last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, provides us with the ultimate lesson and picture of mercy—God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son who was obedient even to the point of death. If we had any doubts about the fathomless depths of God’s mercy after traversing the Sunday gospels of Lent, this final one should lay aside all doubts. In the account of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, we encounter our God who is willing to give himself totally for the forgiveness of our sins, for our redemption. Our prayer for you this Lent is that you may encounter God’s mercy in your personal life and may share it with others. Let’s beat a path to this door—Jesus Christ. As we enter this door, physically or spiritually, a new life of grace and faith awaits us. This door represents an opportunity to leave the past behind, encounter God in his rich mercy and follow the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The Door of Mercy

by Br. Alban Petesch, OSB
Spiritual Reflections
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Phone (701) 974 3315 Address PO Box A Richardton, ND 58601