One of my big themes when I go around speaking is that today everyone knows what the Catholic Church is against, but no one knows what it is for. We don’t have to be ready to bless same-sex marriages in order to make same-sex couples feel welcome in Church. And of course the issue isn’t making same-sex couples welcome in Church, the issue is making people, regardless of lifestyle choices, welcome in Church. (And I do not mean to imply here that same-sex orientation is a “choice.” Only pre-Neanderthals still spout that nonsense. Sexual orientation is not a choice but the styles of life which we choose for ourselves—Middle Class suburban, Yuppie, mid-town sophisticates, rural greenies, etc—while dictated by economic limitations, are choices.) And it is not that becoming gender blind or orientation-blind will fill our pews, but stopping the ugly judgmental face we put to the outside world will go a long way in making the Gospel of Jesus Christ look like something positive for the world rather than looking like some sort of fatwa that calls for death to anyone who diverges from Christian sharia.
I think this is the message Francis has been trying to get out with his remarks on the plane back from Rio and WYD. We don’t have to change our basic moral convictions but we do need to change our moral attitude. And I think we need to change our basic conception of the Church from the Community of the Righteous to the Community of God’s Beloved, remembering that we are beloved of God not for our personal virtue but for God’s own mercy on our broken lives. When we realize that we are all beggars at the feast of Grace that God has laid out we will stop judging the person in the pews next to us and when people feel that it is safe once again to go into church without being judged, we might find our churches filling up.