Who would ever think of answering the phone or the door as an act of mercy? Yet as phone-and-door-answerer-in-chief at a busy rectory, I experience our entryway as a holy door of mercy, of sorts. A river of mercy courses through these doors.

Long before I ever imagined that I would work in a church office, my niece asked me to be her confirmation sponsor, so I needed an eligibility certificate. My phone call to the parish rectory in another diocese that could provide it was uncomfortable, with an exasperated-sounding woman telling me that I had to come to the office for the certificate. Before I could ask another question, she tersely said goodbye and hung up.

My visit with the pastor was similarly abrupt. He asked me questions about Mass attendance and envelope use, all while never making eye contact with me. Moments later, he signed and sealed the paper, dismissing me with a wave.

I felt both relieved and disturbed. While not an entirely merciless transaction, it was not a pleasant one.

Fast-forward: Now, I am the one answering the phone and the door. The foremost thought on my mind is expressed in the Benedictine rule, "Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ."

This is far easier said than done, despite my intentions to be more merciful.

Mercy means being warm and welcoming to someone who has not been to church in ages and inquires, with fear and trepidation, about returning.

Mercy means that, when the annoying person who frequently shows up for outreach assistance walks in, I find ways to be kind, even if I my own inner "hanging judge" suspects the person might be up to something.

Mercy means realizing that perhaps I get agitated at moments like that because I see my own annoying (to me) neediness in my visitor.

Mercy means that when I am spinning like a top with frustration, my coworker kindly says that she will answer the phone and the door for a while, and that maybe I should take a walk.

Mercy means deeply listening to someone tell me a story about his or her life, and then finding myself in tears at the grace revealed in that moment.

Mercy means knowing that God may use me to transform another person's heart.

Mercy means that God has used all available means to soften and transform my own hard heart, even if just a little bit. My mind often returns to that day long ago when I called that other rectory in another diocese for the certificate. At that time, I was too relieved to have my certificate in hand; I wasn't going to go assess what did or did not happen.

There is a dynamism of mercy given and received all day, every day, like waves of mercy lapping upon the shore of my heart. Today, I see those waves, slowly but surely turning hard rock to soft sand. No matter how slowly, mercy is the method that God uses to transform us -- and, as such, may we all find ways to be the conduit for the Spirit to transform those we meet along the way.

In this Year of Mercy, may God transform us all.

(Mrs. Szpylczyn is pastoral associate for administration at Immaculate Conception parish in Glenville, a parishioner of St. Edward's in Clifton Park and a blogger at http://blog.timesunion.com/bread.)