“To be a follower of Christ is to participate in the victory of love over fear. And just on the off-chance we’ve veered from our place at the back of the church with the tax collector, folks, we’re not “following the rules” so we can look good in the eyes of our also-following-the-rules fellow church-goers. Come ON, my brothers and sisters! Those people were the PHARISEES! Those were the people who killed, and who continue to kill, Christ! Catholicism is not a country club whose members we vet to ensure we’re in the “right” company! The very thought should turn our stomachs!
Here’s how you know your life in Christ is bearing fruit:
In spite of your own suffering, loneliness, and pain, you’re welcoming. You’re warm. You’re kind (or you’re at least shooting for those things, and not just toward the people who can “do” something for you, but everyone). You’re in immediate, intimate contact with a few active drunks, someone who’s headed into or has just emerged from a psych ward, an incarcerated felon or two, several porn addicts, a young girl who’s pregnant out of wedlock, several women who have had abortions and are in silent, excruciating mourning, at least one stripper, several people in desperately unhappy marriages, about to be evicted from their apartments, or dying, a minimum-wage worker or two, at least three people who are certifiably insane, at least one U.S. Army chaplain and one peace activist (even better if they’re both priests and the latter is in solitary confinement in a federal prison), several homeless people (the more the better) and a whole TON of gay people, transgender folks, and sex and love addicts of all stripes…
If that’s not part of your circle–in my case, that IS my circle–you’re not getting out enough. If you aren’t sharing your struggles and heart with that circle, at the very least in prayer, something is wrong. Because those are the people Christ hung out with. Because “those people” are us: the people, the only people, suffering, struggling humans. Because if we’re going to be inviting people to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, we sure as hell better be inviting each other into our homes, our tables, our hemorrhaging, conflicted hearts.
Yes, I think. Yes, this is how it should be.
And yet, clearly, by these rubrics, I am not getting out enough. Something is wrong with my life.
I live in a small town in Indiana. There are no strip clubs in this town. There may be a few meth dens down by the river, but could I, should I go there, with my six kids, who like it or not, a permanently wed to my side? I do know some drunks, and I may know some porn addicts, or people in unhappy marriages, though those are things people in this town are very unlikely to share or wear on their sleeve. And how far would I have to travel to find a transgendered person? At least forty miles.
My life offers me many, many opportunities however to break bread with rule followers, the old lady who counts the silverware in the Parish Hall after every soup supper, the man who swears by all that is holy that homosexuality is the sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance, and that even the angels cannot bear to look upon that sin.
I’m more likely to encounter a nun who has been appointed Administrator of a small barely thriving Parish than I am to encounter a Military Chaplain, or an incarcerated Peace Activist. And the Nun I encounter will probably feel overworked, and disappointed that she had to remove the kneelers in the Sanctuary twenty years ago, only to have to replace them again in 2006. This nun, like many of the headstrong individuals in the country, finds obedience very challenging. She follows the rules, but only after much deliberation. She doesn’t like asking parishioners for money, and the parishioners don’t like giving it, especially if it’s for “pageantry” like the installation banquet for a new Archbishop.
I know there’s room in my life for more “going out,” to meet people who suffer from the particular kinds of sin that Heather outlines, but I also think it might be helpful to specify that this community of reluctant rule followers, tightwads, and judgmental people, myself included, just happens to be my own dysfunctional family. As Tolstoy says, “All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.”
Perhaps it’s dangerous to pick out the particular “kinds” of sinners that Jesus found preferable.
In Heather’s own words: “Catholicism is not a country club whose members we vet to ensure we’re in the “right” company! The very thought should turn our stomachs! ”
Broken people come in all shapes and sizes. I hope, for my own sake, that even the Pharisees might share in Christ’s mercy and compassion.