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When it arrived around Christmas, I thought the padded envelope was one of the gifts I had ordered on the Internet. Opening it, however, I found something completely unexpected. It was an 8x10 watercolor of an old exterior door painted by my mother's cousin.
Kathleen and her family have lived on the West Coast for decades. In all honesty, I can't remember the last time I saw any of them. It may have been when I was 12 or 13. Kathleen is the only daughter of my grandfather's brother, so we aren't exactly close. I never really knew her as a person. But I do remember attending her brother's funeral when I was a young child. The unrelenting wind-driven rain that turned graveside umbrellas inside out seemed only fitting at the burial of an officer who came home from Vietnam a month ahead of schedule, and in a box. If nothing else connected us, that experience did.
But there was something else, and it was the subject of the watercolor she had painted and so thoughtfully sent. I recognized the large, old, arch-shaped wooden door immediately from a photo Kathleen had mailed me a when I was looking into family history. It is the door to the house her grandmother -- my great-grandmother -- was born in. Over the door are the initials "J.K." and 1848, the year in which Jakob Klinar built the house.
Kathleen's painting has gotten me thinking about doors, and in this season of the Incarnation, that seems particularly appropriate. In the Alma Redemptoris, (the Marian antiphon for night prayer for Advent until the Feast of the Presentation), we call Mary the open gate leading us to heaven. Mary is our door, as it were, to the presence of God on earth. But there are other doors. On Epiphany, many observe the tradition of blessing the doors of their homes. Numerous parishes offer packets of chalk with instructions for writing 20+C+M+B+11, the digits of the New Year, and the initials of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. These initials also signify a prayer: "Christus, mansionem benedicat," "may Christ bless this house." Perhaps not so coincidentally, the word January comes from the name of the Roman god of beginnings, endings, and doors, Janus. "Janua," in fact, means front door. As such, January is the perfect name for the month that opens up a new year.
Ten years ago, the Church's celebration of the Great Jubilee 2000 began with the words "Open wide the doors to Christ." And open we did. But doors also close, and while I can hardly believe that a decade has passed since Pope John Paul II shut the Holy Doors, it is now 2011, and that extraordinary moment of grace is gone.
"The doors, the doors, Wisdom! Be attentive!" These words are recited just before the Nicene Creed during the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Originally, they were an instruction to close the doors of the church to catechumens and all outsiders before the Liturgy of the Faithful. In most churches, the practice of requiring the un-baptized to leave fell out of use with the waning of persecutions, but the words remain.
Doors can bring people together or keep them forever separated. When the rains fell in the Book of Genesis, the doors to the ark were closed. When the invited guests do not show up at the feast, the divine host opens the doors to all who would come. When Jesus stands at the door and knocks, we are encouraged to answer and open it. But the day will come, he warns, when what is open will be shut, and it shall not open again.
The new year that stretches before us offers us a procession of daily doors, some open, and some shut. As I approach what each day asks of me with that strange mix of hope and fear of the unknown, I pray that I will do so with the awareness that I may not cross that particular threshold again. May God give each of us the courage to knock, to open, to shut when necessary. And may we find ourselves on the right side of every door we encounter in the days to come.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.