27 September 2015

Being Welcome in the Church

I am a sinful man.  I have struggled for years with sins of the flesh, with a loose tongue, sloth, pride, bitterness.  The misery that comes with my sinfulness and the temptation to sin are such regular features of my life that it would be absurd to deny that they form a part of me.  Not part of my essence or vocation—they're simply there with me, in me, wherever I go and whatever I set out to do. Sinfulness is part of me.  If I were to give an account of myself to anyone right now, it would be incomplete if I omitted these things.

An outsider would say, "You are always failing to do what the Catholic Church teaches you must do. Deep down you admit that breaking these rules is part of you, part of 'who you are.' Why not admit that the Catholic Church does not accept you?"

But I have never been unaccepted by the Church on account of my sins.  No matter how pathetic, or frequent, or base my own faults have been, I have always been welcomed with open arms.

What would make the Church stop welcoming me?  What would make it a hostile place?  If it changed its ideas, if it started teaching new things, if it was populated by enforcers of an incoherent orthodoxy at odds with its own true message.

We rejoice with the angels in heaven whenever the least lost sheep of Christ is found and returns to the sheepfold.  But what a horror it is to those of us who love the fold, when our shepherds go out, not to bring back the lost sheep, but to tell them they're all right where they are, and to encourage the whole flock to scatter as they have scattered.

Who will protect us from the wolves in this confusion?  How can anyone be welcome in a flock scattered by its own shepherd?

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 23:1-4