He dwells among us: Making our way home

The doors of mercy are open wide to receive us as we enter this Jubilee Year

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

Imagine what would have happened if the innkeeper in Bethlehem, instead of turning Mary and St. Joseph away, had welcomed them into his home and said, “Tell me about yourselves.”

Had he done so and offered up his own room to them, he might have become one of the most celebrated saints. Advent is a special time when the Church reminds us that we are all innkeepers, and to not be afraid to open wide the door of our heart and to give room to Christ and to all who knock upon our heart’s door.

“Where are you from?” St. Lucia asked this question of the Blessed Mother when Mary appeared to her and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, in Fatima, Portugal, nearly 100 years ago. “I am from heaven,” Mary responded. I also like to ask this question of people, and it’s interesting to hear their replies.

Some mention where they were born and their hometown, others say their parish or diocese, and even some tell of the country where they were born. But as diverse as the places are that we now call home, there is another home that we should all hope to be able to say is ours in the life to come—heaven.

On Dec. 14, I celebrate the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I sometimes have been asked when it was that I knew I was called to be a priest. It may surprise many to know that I didn’t go to the seminary with the express intention of becoming a priest so much as it was for the purpose of proving to myself that I wasn’t actually called to be one.

As I contemplated God’s will for me during this time, I felt Him asking me in prayer—“Tell me about yourself.” It was not that God didn’t already know everything there was to know about me, but by sharing with Him my fears and anxieties, my thoughts and questions, I began to open up my heart to Him more and more.

And in doing so, I began to experience the Church as a home, and particularly as God’s family on a pilgrim journey to its heavenly home. This is when I began to realize that I was being called to serve the family of God as a priest and to help people get to their home in heaven.

A lot has changed since my ordination, and my outlook has changed quite a bit, too, over the years. But through it all, the Church has been and remains for me a source of constancy and stability. Sometimes people fear that the Church is wavering, that she will water down her doctrine and lose her precious treasures.

But here we must have confidence, for the truths of our faith are unchanging. What continues to change in the Church’s 2,000-year history is her ability to speak the language of faith with greater fluency and more precise vocabulary. Through the Holy Spirit, the Church is able to discern new presentations of the same dogma of teaching that was given to the Apostles.

This is one of the reasons why Pope Francis has called for a special Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning Dec. 8. He wants to express in ever clearer terms the love and mercy of God. As Pope Francis reminds us, Christ rejected sin, but never rejected the sinner. The greatest sadness is being a sinner and not caring. The greatest joy is in confessing that we are a sinner and in opening our hearts to God’s healing grace. The greatest peace awaits those who accept God’s merciful love and His challenge to go and sin no more!

It is my fervent prayer during this Advent season that you will make greater room for Jesus in the “inn” of your heart, and make more firmly your home in the Church. In the name of Cardinal Rigali, and of all our priests, deacons and religious, I wish you a blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas. ■

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