I’m ashamed to admit that this movie completely terrified me when I was a kid. But the funny thing is that what scared me wasn’t stuff like the guy running through a field carrying his girlfriend’s severed head, or said head sitting in a pan full of syrupy blood bemoaning her fate, or even the mad doctor desperately stalking strippers and models (the only body types suitable for his experiment, of course) in order to lob off one of their noggins and replace it with the one back at the lab. No, even at the age of six, I found all of that good fun. I mean, come on, the guy gets sick of hearing his girlfriend’s disembodied head complain all the time, so he duct tapes her mouth shut. That’s classic at any age.
No, what unnerved my young brain was the unseen thing behind the basement door. Out of sight until the very end of the film, it’s always there rattling the handle, testing the hinges, and occasionally thrusting a disfigured arm out of the food pass-through. The thought of what could be lurking behind that door chilled me to my childhood marrow and staved off sleep for hours to come. Even after I saw that it was just some doofus with putty all over his face.
Ah well, I was only six. And it’s not like the fear of the unknown can’t grip grownups from time to time. As this week’s gospel reading attests to, even the Disciples once found themselves fearfully sitting in a room staring at a locked door. They knew what Jesus wanted them to do, but that would mean opening the door and seeing what was waiting for them on the other side. “We continually close our doors” Pope Benedict XVI noted in his 2005 Pentecost homily, “we continually want to feel secure and do not want to be disturbed by others and by God.”
But, fortunately, doors aren’t really a problem for God. As the Pope explained, “The second image of the sending of the Spirit that we find in the Gospel is much more hidden. The Risen Lord passes through the closed doors and enters the place where the disciples are.” In this moment, Jesus prefigures the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost when the Apostles gained a little fortitude, threw open the doors, and began to teach the faith. Openly and loudly.
And now it’s our turn. Word is out that Pope Benedict XVI is establishing the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization in order to spur renewed efforts at spreading the Gospel in Europe and North America where the teachings of Christ are being overshadowed by the ongoing secularization of today’s culture. For awhile now most Catholics have preferred to keep their evangelizing behind locked doors, but it looks like Jesus is about to slip right in again and tell us to throw those doors wide open. Hope nobody’s scared.