It was a lesson I began to learn when I was seven or eight . . .
My buddy Freddie from across the street and I were playing outside. Mom called me for supper.
“Can Freddie stay and eat supper with us?” I asked.
“He’d sure be welcome, if it’s okay with his mom and dad,” she replied.
“Thanks, Mrs. Dolan,” Freddie replied. “I’m sure it’s okay, because mom and dad are out, and the babysitter was just going to make me a sandwich whenever I came in.”
I was so proud and happy. Freddie was welcome in our house, at our table. We both rushed in and sat down.
“Freddie, glad you’re here,” dad remarked, “but . . . looks like you and Tim better go wash your hands before you eat.”
Simple enough . . . common sense . . . you are a most welcome and respected member now of our table, our household, dad was saying, but, there are a few very natural expectations this family has. Like, wash your hands!…
So it is with the supernatural family we call the Church: all are welcome!
But, welcome to what? To a community that will love and respect you, but which has rather clear expectations defining it, revealed by God in the Bible, through His Son, Jesus, instilled in the human heart, and taught by His Church.
The Church is Catholic . . . that means all are welcome;
The Church is one . . . that means we have a Person — Jesus — and His moral teaching that unite us;
The Church is apostolic . . . that means that His teaching was entrusted to His apostles, and carefully handed-on by His Church. The sacred duty of the Church is to invite people, challenge people, to live the message and teachings of Jesus.
This balance can cause some tensions. Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!
Blessed John Paul II used to say that the best way to love someone was to tell them the truth: To teach the truth with love. Jesus did that — He was love and truth in His very person — and so does His Church.
We love and respect everyone . . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean we love and respect their actions.
Who a person is? We love and respect him or her . . .
What a person does? Truth may require that we tell the person we love that such actions are not consonant with what God has revealed.
We can never judge a person . . . but, we can judge a person’s actions.
Jesus did it best. Remember the woman caught in adultery? The elders were going to stone her. At the words of Jesus, they walked away.
“Is there no one left to condemn you?” the Lord tenderly asked the accused woman.
“No one, Sir,” she whispered.
“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus concluded. “Now go, but sin no more.”
Hate the sin; love the sinner . . .
In my senior year of college, I led a delegation to the rector arguing that it was time to drop the “outmoded” expectation that we seminarians be required to major in philosophy. Those “revolutionary” days — this was 1971 — required, we insisted, that we future priests be specialists in more “relevant” areas such as psychology or sociology.
The rector, a wise man, listened carefully and patiently. He thanked us and asked for some time to think and consult about our demand.
A week later he called us back and told us that the philosophy requirement would remain. (I’m now sure glad he did, by the way!) One of the more fiery students piped-up, “See, you never listen to us! You do not respect us.”
The rector calmly explained “Just because I do not agree with you, or do not accept your proposal, does not mean that I did not listen, nor that I do not love and respect you.”
Not a bad philosophy lesson, by the way!
So, for example, the Church loves, welcomes, and respects the alcoholic . . . but would not condone his binge;
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a prominent business leader…but would not condone his or her failure to pay a just wage to a migrant worker;
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a young couple in love . . . but would challenge their decision to “live together” before marriage;
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a woman who has had an abortion, and the man who fathered the child and encouraged the abortion . . . but would be united with them in mourning and regretting that deadly choice;
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a woman or man with a same-sex attraction . . . while reminding him or her of our clear teaching that, while the condition of homosexuality is no sin at all, still, God’s teaching is clear that sexual acts are reserved for a man and woman united in the lifelong, life-giving, faithful, loving bond of marriage.
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects wealthy people, while prophetically teaching the at-times-uncomfortable virtue of justice and charity towards the poor.
We are part of a Church where, yes, all are welcome, but, no, not a Church of anything goes.
Remember last Sunday’s moving gospel of Jesus, the Good Shepherd? An effective pastor cherishes, protects, feeds, and leads his flock, while welcoming his sheep into the fold. But . . . he will not let them wander off and do whatever or go wherever the sheep might want to go. His duty is to bring them back and rescue them from danger.
This shepherd is still trying to learn how to be like that, to love all without ever compromising the truth.