Crossing the threshold of faith
To the priests, consecrated men and women and lay faithful of Buenos Aires
Dated 1 October 2012, the Feast of St Theresa of the Child Jesus, this Pastoral Letter was written by the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires to his Archdiocese for the Year of Faith, entitled 'Cruzar el umbral de la fe'. The following is a translation from the original Spanish.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Finding a door locked is one of the very disconcerting experiences of these past decades. Increasing insecurity has gradually led to barring doors, to installing alarm systems and security cameras and to mistrusting strangers who knock at our door. Nevertheless in some villages doors are still left open. The locked door is entirely a symbol of our day. It is something more than a mere sociological factor; it is an existential situation that marks a lifestyle, an approach to reality, to others, to the future: the locked door of my home — the place of my intimacy, my dreams, my hopes and my sufferings, as well as of my joys — is closed to others.
Moreover not only is my material home closed but also the boundary of my life, of my heart. Fewer and fewer can cross this threshold. The security of a few burglar-proof doors preserves the insecurity of a life that is growing ever more fragile and less
sensitive to the treasures of life and the love of others.
The image of an open door has always been a symbol of light, friendship, joy, freedom and trust. How badly we need to recover all of this! The closed door harms us, atrophies us and divides us. We are beginning the Year of Faith and paradoxically the image the Pope is proposing is that of the door, a door that we must pass through if we are to find what we lack so much. The Church, through the cross and the heart of her Pastor Benedict XVI, invites us to cross the threshold, to take a step, to make a free interior decision: to inspire us to enter a new life.
The door of faith takes us back to the Acts of the Apostles: "when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27). God always takes the initiative and does not want anyone to be left out. God knocks at the door of our hearts: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). Faith is a grace, a gift of God. "Only through believing, then, does faith grow and become stronger; in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God" (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, n. 7, 11 October 2011).
Passing through this door implies setting out on a lifelong journey, as we advance, passing many doors that are presented to us today. Many of them are false doors, attractive doors that entice us to enter but thatlie, doors that promise empty, narcissistic happiness with an expiration date; doors that open on crossroads where whatever decision we make will give rise to anxiety, both short and long term, and to bewilderment, self-referential doors that lead nowhere and offer no guarantee for the future.
While the doors of homes are shut, the doors of shopping malls are always open. We pass through the door of faith and cross this threshold when the word of God is proclaimed, when we let our heart be shaped by transforming grace (cf. Porta Fidei, n.1). It is a grace with a real name, and this name is Jesus.
Jesus is the door (Jn 10:9). He and he alone is and always will be the door; no one goes to the Father but through him (Jn 14:6). Without Christ there is no way to God. As a door he opens the path that leads to God and as the Good Shepherd he is the One who cares for us at the cost of his own life.
Jesus is the door and he knocks at our door so that we will let him cross the threshold of our life. "Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ", Blessed John Paul II told us at the beginning of his Pontificate. This means opening the door of the heart, like the disciples of Emmaus; it means asking him to stay with us so that we can pass through the door of faith and that the Lord himself may bring us to understand our reasons for believing. In this way we can then go on to proclaim them. Faith implies that we decide to stay with the Lord, to live with him and to share him with our brethren.
We thank God for this opportunity to appreciate our life as children of God, for this journey of faith which began in our life with the waters of Baptism, the inexhaustible and fruitful water poured on us that makes us children of God and brother and sister members of the Church. The goal, destination or aim of our journey of faith is the encounter with God with whom we have already entered into communion. He wants to refresh us, to purify us, to uplift us, to sanctify us and to give us the happiness that our heart yearns for.
Let us thank God for he has sown within our Archdiocesan Church the desire to disseminate this gift of Baptism and to offer it with open hands. It is the fruit of a long journey which began with the question: "what should the Church of Buenos Aires be like?", having passed through the state of being an assembly to be rooted in the state of mission as an ongoing pastoral option.
Beginning this Year of Faith is a new call for deeper understanding of this faith we have received in our life. Professing faith with words entails living it in our heart and showing it with our actions: a witness borne and a public commitment. The disciple of Christ, a son or daughter of the Church, can never think that believing is a private act. It is an important, demanding challenge, day after day, in the conviction that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1 : 6) . Looking at our situation, let us ask ourselves as missionary disciples: "what challenges us to cross the threshold of faith"?
Crossing the threshold of faith challenges us to discover — even though today death in its various forms seems to prevail and history seems to be led by the law of the strongest or cleverest, and hatred and ambition act as the driving force behind so much human strife — that we are also utterly convinced that this sorry situation can and must change, once and for all. For "if God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom 8:31, 37).
Crossing the threshold of faith implies feeling no shame in retaining the heart of a child. While continuing to believe in what is impossible, a child can live with hope, the only thing that can give meaning, that can transform history. It implies tirelessly asking, praying without losing heart and worshiping so that our gaze may be transfigured.
Crossing the threshold of faith leads us to imploring for each and every one "this mind... which was in Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). We will thus experience a new way of thinking, of communicating with each other, of looking at each other, of respecting each other, of existing as a family, of planning our future, of living love and our vocation.
Crossing the threshold of faith means putting into practice and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit that is present in the Church and is expressed in the signs of the times. It means accompanying life and history in their perpetual motion without lapsing into the paralyzing defeatism which views all past times as better. It is urgent to think of the new, to contribute to the new, to create the new, kneading life with the new leaven of justice and holiness (1 Cor 5:8).
Crossing the threshold of faith entails keeping a gaze of wonder and a heart that has not grown accustomed to laziness; a heart that can recognize that whenever a woman gives birth to a child we continue to put our stakes on life and on the future; that when we show concern for the innocence of children, we guarantee the truth of a tomorrow; and that when we cherish a life dedicated to an elderly person, we are performing an act of justice and caressing our own roots.
Crossing the threshold of faith is working with dignity and a vocation to service, with the self-denial of those who start over and over again,without giving in as they face life, as if all that has been done were only a step towards the Kingdom, fullness of life. It is the silent waiting after the daily sowing. It is contemplation of the harvest gathered in, thanking the Lord because it is good and asking him not to forsake the work of his hands (Ps 138).
Crossing the threshold of faith demands fighting for freedom and coexistence even though the surrounding environment may falter, in the certainty that the Lord asks us "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly" with our God (Mic 6:8).
Crossing the threshold of hope involves the ongoing conversion of our attitudes, our ways and our tastes; reformulating and not patching them over or revarnishing them. It involves giving a new form which impresses Jesus Christ on the person who is touched by his hand and by his Gospel of life, impelling us to do something unheard of for society and for the Church; because "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17-21).
Crossing the threshold of hope prompts us to forgive and to know how to elicit a smile; it means drawing close to anyone who lives on the margins of life and calling him by name; it means being careful with the frailty of the weakest and supporting their hesitant steps in the certainty that what we do for the least of our brethren we are doing for Jesus himself (cf. Mt 25:40).
Crossing the threshold of faith implies celebrating life. It implies letting ourselves be transformed because we became one with Jesus at the table of the Eucharist celebrated in the community, and keeping our hands and hearts busy, labouring in the great project of the Kingdom: everything else will be given to us in addition (cf. Mt 6:33).
Crossing the threshold of faith means living in the spirit of the Council and of Aparecida. It means being a Church with doors wide open, not only to receive but fundamentally to come out and to fill the streets and lives of the people of our time with the Gospel.
Crossing the threshold of faith in our Archdiocesan Church, presupposes that we feel strengthened in our mission to be a Church which lives, prays and works in a missionary key.
Crossing the threshold of faith, ultimately, is accepting the newness of life in Jesus Christ risen in our own poor flesh, to make it a sign of new life.
In meditating upon all these things, let us look to Mary. May she, the Virgin Mother, guide us in crossing this threshold of faith and bring the Holy Spirit to our Church in Buenos Aires, as in Nazareth, so that we may worship the Lord just as she did and go out to proclaim the marvels he has worked within us.