To open a door is a symbol. And the symbol, etymologically speaking, is union between two realities, form and content. Its contrary, still from an etymological standpoint, is the devil: he who divides. Putting one’s hands on the two wings of the door to push them forward and open a passage can be an old ritual action we have seen thousands of times. A form, without soul. The door can be storied and decorated by a great master. The movement accompanied by extraordinary songs and performed with hieratic haughtiness. Or the door can be a wooden, freshly painted one, and its opening can happen in silence, soberly, almost in an embarrassed way.
How many holy doors will be opened this month of December to imitate the action which will take place in St. Peter’s Cathedral next December 8? How many of them will be truly symbols? How many of them will truly mean God’s heart throwing open to the most miserable and unforgivable humanity? A true possibility of redemption for all those who do not deserve anything, for the most forgotten in this world?
Speaking at the UN last September, Francis asked the leaders of the world to avoid the temptation of “symbolic nominalism which has an appeasing effect on one’s conscience”. Of soulless words. Under the number 231 of Evangelii Gaudium, he asks the Church to avoid “declamatory nominalism”. And he seems to always demand it also from himself. No word remains two-dimensional in his preaching; it becomes flesh as he pronounces it, it becomes, as it has been written, ‘performative’.
The same way, no action is a flash-mob to entertain the crowd, but points – as his invitation to hold hands and raise arms at the Nairobi City Stadium -, to an actual urgency, as is in Kenya the need for union in order to fight the divisions of tribalism. The Pope who condemns the overuse of smart-phones in convivial family situations, is effectively embodied in the dazed caller. On the phone with the director of TG2000, a few hours after Paris attacks, Francis does not know what to say, he is astonished by the inhumanity of what has happened. He does not dare to think, to apply the bare and useless theological logic to those massacred bodies at Bataclan, but his hesitating voice embodies the inability to explain suffering.
Actions and words that are not empty rhetoric, nor mere transmission of ideas, they are reality. “The criterion of reality, of a Word which is already incarnate and that always seeks to incarnate, is essential to evangelization”, the Pope wrote in Evangelii Gaudium. “Not to put it into practice, not to conduct the Word to reality means building on sand, remaining in the pure idea and degenerate into intimism which does not give any fruits, which make its dynamism sterile”, he stated on 10 November, meeting the participants of the Italian Ecclesial National Convention in Florence.
Put in place concrete acts of mercy, reconciliation and solidarity that embody the Word, this is the mission of the Church. This is what Francis told us while opening, against everything and everyone, the extraordinary Jubilee in Bangui, in the heart of a bloodstained, poor and exploited continent.