When I was in Washington last year, one of the things that fascinated me was the Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Simply carved in glowing wood, the door was firmly closed when I saw it. A sign in front of it explained that it would be opened Dec. 8, 2015, at the start of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and would be closed Nov. 20, 2016.
As I stood before the door, I thought of how powerful a symbol a door can be.
Mercy and opening doors have much to do with each other, and also much to say to those of us living with serious illnesses and pain. There is the tangible act of a door that opens to let in the doctor who will treat us, the nurse who will check our vital signs.
For those with mobility issues, many automatic doors provide a merciful service to make entry into buildings, including homes, achievable. A kind (and merciful) stranger who holds an elevator door open is certainly an earthly angel for those of us suffering from end-of-day extreme fatigue!
Often, I find that when I am troubled by a new diagnosis or wondering about a new medication, a wise friend or member of my medical team can open a door to information or perspective, helping me make important and, often, life-enhancing decisions.
True, I can also open a door to information online, but I also like to hear of personal experiences from those who have been through similar conditions. Their openness to helping me is one of the great blessings that illness brings.
Our lives with illness are much like doors, too. If we keep them closed and distance ourselves from others and the world around us, we give ourselves little opportunity to help others understand us and be merciful.
But if we open the doors to our hearts and our unique lives, we can serve the twofold purpose of participating and giving, loving and being loved. If we look upon the more "dreaded" routines (medical appointments, exercise routines) as ways to open the door to better health, we can embrace progress and invite improvement.
Open doors let in light and fresh air, often in the form of new ideas and perspectives. They can lead us to personal journeys of discovery and growth. This year, I am going to spend time exploring the writings of some of the saints with whom I am least familiar, thus walking through new, open doors that will help me learn.
I will consider my illness as a door, too, and find ways through it to gain better patience and empathy. I’ll try to help others discover the doors in their lives and the ways that these can lead to health-filled goodness. And I will be even more aware of the door that is always open within, the door that leads to faith-filled prayer and greater closeness with God.
Illness can sometimes seem devoid of anything good. Days of pain can wear us down and box us in. It can be easier than we’d like to admit to lose sight of the love, mercy and hope available to us and the ways that we can be all of that and more to others. But if we look to the blessedly open doors around us, the darkness can be illuminated and the deep sorrow uplifted by mercy and joy.
Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service.