Posts Tagged ‘Church’

All Are Welcome!

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

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.

To Christ Through His Church

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Observations on the Synod regarding the New Evangelization

Feast of Blessed John XXIII

50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council

Opening of the Year of Faith

For us pastors from the United States, this fraternal gathering in Rome is a powerful reminder of how young we are!  We are just “babies” in the Church, when compared to the ancient churches of Rome, the Middle East, the Eastern Rites, and Europe.

Perhaps because of our youth, we have many reasons for hope and promise as we consider the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith in North America.

Here are some of those reasons:

For one, the United States is actually very religious, contrary to the caricature that it is a pagan, secular, materialistic country.  Not at all!  As Chesterton, the acclaimed British apologist, wrote, America “is a nation with the soul of a church.”  The very foundation of American life is the Jewish-Christian tradition.  Over 50% of Americans take the Sabbath seriously; over 90% of us believe in God, and consider the Bible a source of God’s wisdom and teaching; and over 80% believe Jesus to be divine.  As a recent poll demonstrated, the overwhelming majority of American citizens would have no problem voting for an evangelical, a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, a Mormon, a Hindu, or a Buddhist as president – but never for an atheist!

Two, we still benefit immensely from immigration, with devoted Catholics arriving each day from, for instance, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.  They bring us wonderful people with a vibrant faith, strong families, who, upon arrival in America, search for welcoming parishes, where they are faithful to Sunday Mass and the sacraments.

Three, the Church in America is vigorous with sacred enterprises of charity and education, especially in care for the sick and our elders, in schools, and in agencies of service. These apostolates are ambassadors of evangelization.  Pope Paul VI remarked that men and women today learn more from witness than from words.  We attract folks to Jesus and His Church by radiating love.  Just look at the witness of our soon-to-be canonized Kateri Tekakwitha and Mother Mary Anne Cope.

Four, the clear, consistent teaching of the Catholic Church is well known, if at times misunderstood or attacked.  Even those who disagree with these teachings of the Church – and “their name is legion” – usually, at least, grudgingly admire the Church for her tenacious preaching on the dignity of human life; peace, justice, and charity; solicitude for the suffering of the world; and defense of marriage and the family.

These features give us confidence in the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith.

However…all is not rosy!  We have challenges to this sacred commission as well.

Let me list just a few:

For one, while we Americans are, as I noted above, religious by nature, there are undeniably present in our culture those that are not only irreligious but anti-religion.  These would be evident in some vocal segments of the entertainment industry, the press, academia, and even in government.

Such forces view faith — especially, pardon my thin-skin, the Catholic religion — as opposed to everything they see as liberating, enlightening, and progressive in the world, a repressive voice to be resisted and maligned.

For us, then, a genuine challenge of the New Evangelization is to present faith in Jesus as alive in His Church as we know Him and her really to be:  the premier force in history for all that is good, true, and beautiful in humanity.  As the Holy Father claims, the Church is a yes, instead of a no, to all that is honorable, noble, and decent in the human person.

Two, people today have no trouble believing, they tell us; but they’d rather not belong.  As a recent newspaper magazine cover put it, “Jesus, yes.  The Church, no.”

For us Catholics, such a choice is crazy.  As Saul/Paul learned on the Road to Damascus, Jesus Christ and His Church are one.  No wonder he would later compare the love of Jesus and His Church to that of a husband and a wife.  “What God has joined together” – husband and wife, Jesus and His Church – “we must not divide.”

In a recent interview, Joe Girardi, the manager of the Yankees, reported that, while he was raised a Catholic, he really never met or knew Jesus until he met his future wife, Kim.  While I can hardly question Joe’s report, as sad as I find it, I feel compelled to remind him that, literally, billions of people, for 2000 years, have found Jesus through another woman: not named Kim, but a woman known as the bride of Christ, Holy Mother Church.  Through her, they have been baptized into His death and resurrection, nourished by His own body and blood in the Eucharist, strengthened by the sacrament of confirmation, embraced by a supernatural family which includes both the saints of Heaven and friends who share faith and values here on earth.  This is the Church.

As the great French theologian, Henri du Lubac, asked “For what would I ever know of Him without her?”

Three, as we soberly acknowledge, we today confront a new opponent to the New Evangelization in recent bureaucratic, and judicial invasions against the deep American constitutional heritage of “our first and most cherished freedom,” religious liberty.  Recent intrusions upon the integrity of the Church, even presuming to define the nature of the Church’s ministers and ministries, imperil our right to live our faith, in obedience to Jesus, as a light to the world.

Especially toxic to the New Evangelization is the fad to reduce religion to a hobby, limited to Sunday morning, and not a normative, positive influence on everything we do, dream, and dare.  Religion is personal, yes; but it is hardly private.

Four, while the durable tradition of freedom in the United States has served the Church well, we now face a chilling reduction of liberty to libertarianism.    For some, this means a selfish callousness to the needs of those beyond our own little world, a stubborn claim that we only need tend to ourselves, nobody else, even those in need.  For others, this libertarianism means we have the unfettered right to do whatever we want, wherever, however, whenever, with whomever we want, unchained from any limit placed by ethics, morals, faith, or reason.  No divinity, no church, no faith, no natural law, they say, has any claim upon our urges and drives.

As Blessed John Paul II would remark, “Freedom is hardly the right to do whatever we want, but the ability to do what we ought.

A powerful force in America resists any ought, and is suspicious of any authority – including that proposed by the New Evangelization, Jesus and His Church – which would propose an “ought” tethering our freedom to responsibility and reason.

Here at the Synod on the New Evangelization, I am in awe of the more venerable churches of the world, which have millennia of experience.  We “baby” Americans are grateful to them for evangelizing us.  Now, we Americans are honored to be partners with them in the New Evangelization.