Monday, March 25, 2013

All Are Welcome: A Prayer For The Church

I mentioned in my last posting about people being made welcome around our Father’s Table—that is that all should be made welcome in the assembly of the Church.  A friend of mine who is a professional Church musician told me that Marty Haugen wrote the hymn All Are Welcome tongue in cheek because in most Catholic and Lutheran (Haugen’s music is widely sung in Catholic Churches but he himself is a Lutheran) congregations, all are not welcome, or at least are not made to feel welcome.  I find this sad, tragic really and cannot but wonder how Christ who sat at table with sinners and ate with them would feel about the scribes and the Pharisees winning out in so many of today’s parishes.
A priest friend of mine recently gave a retreat in which a woman came to him for “advice” because her children were “persecuting her” by not allowing her to see her grandchildren because she was “just trying to teach them their Catholic faith.” 
Given that all five of her children had “banned” Grandma, the priest was suspicious that the situation might be more complex.  When the woman told him that three of the children were practicing Catholics he was even more puzzled about the problem.  What was Granny trying to teach them?   “They need to know that same-sex marriage is evil in the sight of God,” she told him.   Now I am not sure that four and seven year olds do need to know that.  And it certainly isn’t the first point of catechesis, as my priest friend said.  But when he told the woman that there were other points of the faith that she perhaps should concentrate on, the woman just launched into a diatribe so vicious and filled with rancor that the priest told me “I seriously had to ask myself whether I could give her Holy Communion in the state she was in.  There obviously is more to her story than she was telling me, or perhaps that she would even own.  What had motivated her to come to see me?  I had said nothing about same-sex marriage, but I had said in one of my retreat talks that ‘everyone today knows what the Catholic Church is against; few know what it is for.’  She hit the nail right on the head and knew exactly what I meant by that remark. And she thinks that is just fine.”
I don’t expect the Church to soon change its teaching on same-sex marriage any more than I expect changes on the ordination of women or contraception.  Frankly, as I stated in my last entry, I don’t think a change in the doctrines themselves is the most urgent item on the agenda.  What is urgent is a change of style on how the teachings are presented and how people are treated in the Church.   A week or two ago I had posted that the Church is not about moral perfection but about the forgiveness of sins.  That drew two or three responses from the Pharisee wing assuring me that no, the Church is about moral perfection.  Anyone who knows the history of the Church knows that the Church, or at least its pastors and spokespersons, is in no position to make demands of moral perfection on anyone.  And the Gospel is clear that the only ones who have a right to come to the table are the sinners—“the healthy do not need a physician, the sick do; the Son of Man has come not for the righteous but for sinners.”  We must avoid the temptation to stand up in front of the world and pray “I thank you Lord that I am not like the rest of people: gay or contracepting or having aborted—or even like that agnostic over there.  I demonstrate at the abortuary twice a week, I vote Republican…” Better to look deep into our hearts, acknowledge our own failures—past and present—and greet our fellow sinners with open arms and a smile.  “This man, I tell you goes home justified; the former does not.”

p.s.  apologies to all those who vote Republican in good faith and with a sincere conscience, just using it as an example of those who who feel they have the moral right (or obligation) to keep Obama-voters from Holy Communion.          

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