In a short series of four paragraphs, given the title “A mother with an open heart,” Pope Francis offers two pairs of images—twinned descriptions, one positive, one negative, of Mother Church. The first pairing revolves around the idea of openness.
“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door.” How true is this of the churches in the Philippines? A parishioner is blessed indeed if her parish church keeps a small door open even at night. But the Pope is also speaking of openness in the figurative sense. “There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason.”
In Pope Francis’ view, the opposite of this welcoming image of the Church is—surprisingly—not the locked door, but the turnstile, the revolving door that moves only if you put a coin in it. “But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” The context of this image is a sobering reflection born of his pastoral experience. “Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators.”
Arbiters of grace: What an indictment of tollhouse Christians! We can do better. We can “facilitate” grace in part by behaving “like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.”