By Fr. David Foxen, MSC
From the beginning of the Church, there have always been some who thought that only the really good people should be counted as belonging in the Church. The thinking runs something like this: every baptized person is called to put on Christ and to live the Gospel. Those who don’t do this, or don’t do it very well, do not really belong in the Church. This kind of Church would become a gathering of the elite. Others “need not apply.”
Fortunately the Church has always resisted this kind of thinking, and for very good reason. True, all of the baptized are called to holiness. Holiness doesn’t particularly mean being “saintly,” prayerful, and pious. Holiness does mean trying to live the reality of our union with Christ when we died with him and rose to new life with him in Baptism. And that means that we accept God’s love and make a commitment to love him and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We become members of his Living Body and the Holy Spirit is with us as individuals and as community.
However, we remain quite human and rather selfish in our attitudes and actions. We are born into a world where sin is real and we are wounded by it (we call this situation “original sin”). So our life is a struggle, as St. Paul noted so well. Fortunately, Jesus, who shared our humanity so fully, knows this really well. He spent much of his time on earth healing people, physically and especially spiritually. He reconciled those who had fallen far from God. He spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd who is delighted to spend time finding and restoring the lost and wounded sheep. He described the Father as being like the father who waited for the return of his disobedient and uncaring son, and received him not with the kick in the rear he deserved but with open arms and a feast. We begin every celebration of the Eucharist by confessing our sinfulness and asking his pardon and mercy. And he gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the times we need to experience his forgiveness and healing in a tangible way for our more serious failures. He knows that we too sometimes need to feel the Father’s embrace. The community of the Church as well, especially in times like the present, needs to acknowledge sinfulness and seek healing and reconciliation.
The point to make is that the mission of the Church is not to figure out who are the really good or even who are the really bad. The Church, including us, is called to continue the healing and reconciliation begun by Christ. Our mission is to build the Kingdom, which is very much at odds with the accepted norms and values of human society. We must confront evil where it exists, in ourselves, in our society, and in our Church. But we need to welcome all, and learn not to be judgmental. We need to keep reaffirming Christ’s love and leave aside the threats of wrath. We are a pilgrim people; we are on a journey to the Kingdom. We aren’t there yet, and Christ expects us to walk together and help and encourage each other.