AS IN meditation, during which one becomes conscious of the space between the in-breath and out-breath, life goes on in intervals between the closing of one door and the opening of another, the ending of one phase and the beginning of another.
The process has its own spiritual parallel.
In Roman Catholicism, one is renewed through the sacrament of Confession, cleansed of sin once given absolution by the confessor priest, thus afforded a fresh start. All faithful are in fact required to go to Confession during Lent, the week culminating in the celebration of Easter.
Pope Francis, as we know, has adjusted Church rules to make forgiveness available to just about everybody. Among the beneficiaries are those who have committed the sin of abortion or couples not qualified for the sacrament of marriage but have continued to live together “in sin.”
He has also declared a Year of Mercy, which began, auspiciously, on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and ends on Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King.
For the year, Francis grants a plenary indulgence that erases all spiritual and corporal sin to those who make a pilgrimage to certain churches and enter their previously closed Holy Door, the symbolic barrier to sin that separates human beings from God.
Designated cathedrals, basilicas and Marian shrines, not only in Rome but throughout the world, will be opened for the purpose. Here in Metro Manila, Cardinal Tagle named five churches.
Francis quotes Jesus, “I am the door: If one goes through me he will be saved.”
On the first day of the Year of Mercy, Francis opened the Holy Door at Rome’s own St. Peter’s Basilica. It has since happened to 10,000 other churches, among them the Cathedral of Bangui, the capital of the war-torn Central African Republic; the Pope himself opened that Holy Door during his visit there.
Francis looks at the year as a “privileged moment in God’s plan of salvation,” wherein people once excluded from grace are accommodated, nay, welcomed again and given plenary indulgence, no less, to erase their sins, as if they were never committed. The clean slate, however, comes with a commitment to live a new life, faithful to God’s laws.
Francis, in his letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, invites all faithful to make the pilgrimage through the symbolic Holy Door.
To those unable to make it because of some physical condition—the elderly, the sick, those alone in life—Francis has further eased the accommodation. A spiritual communion with Jesus, whose passion and resurrection give meaning to pain and loneliness, is enough for them to receive the indulgence.
He has also included “those in prison who deserve to be punished but would like to re-enter society and make an honest contribution to it. They have the greatest need for forgiveness. They may obtain the indulgence in the chapel of their prison. They should also do spiritual and corporal works of mercy and have a firm commitment to live by mercy, that way they obtain complete and exhaustive forgiveness.”
Not leaving anyone behind, Francis has made provisions even for those who have already died. They, too, will receive the plenary indulgence through those who remember them in the celebration of the Eucharist.
For non-Catholics, Paulo Coelho, who believes in the basic goodness of man and challenges his ability to help himself in any situation, offers a similar but simpler advice for their very own Easter rebirth:
“Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: Tell yourself that what has passed will never come back… Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life. Shut the door, change the record, clean the house and shake off the dust. Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.”