One of the things we hear over and over again is how the Church needs to be more welcoming of those who are in irregular situations — immigrants, single parent and blended families, divorced people, and homosexual people. That is absolutely correct. The Gospel is for everyone, the call to unity with Jesus is universal, and the Church is the ark of salvation for all humanity.
The problem comes when the call to be welcoming becomes a demand for acceptance.
Here’s the problem. God doesn’t accept me, at least not as I am — a sinner. He wants me to change. He wants me to reject my sins, to turn to him in repentance, and to live my life differently, according to his will and not by my disordered appetites.
The Christian life is not about acceptance, it’s all about conversion. This is a fundamental truth of our faith. The very first call of Jesus himself was to repentance (Mk 1:15). His way was prepared by the great John the Baptist, whose entire mission was a call to repentence. He was preceded by the prophets, whose message was always to turn away from sin and return to God in contrition.
We are reminded of this when we ask for forgiveness at Mass, when we say the Our Father (“forgive us our trespasses…”) and the Hail Mary (“pray for us sinners…”). We get the most vivid reminder on Ash Wednesday, when we are told to “repent and believe in the Gospel”. Perhaps we have lost sight of this. Perhaps we’ve been too busy singing bland empty stuff like “All Are Welcome” that we’ve forgotten the essential message of great hymns like the Attende Domine.
This was called to my mind by a propaganda video I recently saw, put out by a supposedly Catholic parish, trumpeting their ministry to homosexual persons. It was very glossy, super professional, and totally misguided and dangerous. The video was all about acceptance, and nothing about conversion. In fact, sin and repentance were never even mentioned, and the Church’s teaching on sexual morality was openly rejected in word and practice. The entire video was, in essence, a permission slip for people to continue in their sins.
If we welcome people without calling them to conversion, then we are misleading them and doing them no favors. We are putting their souls, and our own, at risk. God does not want me to be comfortable in my sins. He wants me to reject my sins, seek forgiveness, and never look back. Of course, we have to be gentle and kind, merciful and compassionate, and above all, patient. Sin is an addiction for most of us — it certainly is for me — and it takes time for us to go through detox and rehab. But God’s grace will help us go through this process, and to live clean and sober. In fact, it’s impossible for us to experience real conversion through our own strength. We can only do this through the grace of God, experienced through the ministry of other recovering sinners and dispensed through the Sacraments.
The Christian life is not easy. It is difficult to lead a life of holiness and be saints. But we’ll never get close to that goal if we’re looking for mere acceptance. We have to acknowledge and renounce our sins, and turn to God for healing.
Please, God, don’t accept me. Change me.