Pope Francis’ Marginalized Ones: You and Everyone You Dismiss, Too

Back on Wednesday, Pope Francis gave a particularly passionate and energetic sermon that got a lot of notice:

Turning to the Letter to the Romans, the Pope then affirmed that this feast is a “feast of unity.” He underlined the fact that all are invited, “the good and the bad.” And the first to be invited are the marginalized:

The Church is not the Church only for good people. Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners. All of us sinners are invited. At this point there is a community that has diverse gifts: one has the gift of prophecy, another of ministry, who teaching. . . We all have qualities and strengths. But each of us brings to the feast a common gift. Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast. Christian existence cannot be understood without this participation. ‘I go to the feast, but I don’t go beyond the antechamber, because I want to be only with the three or four people that I familiar with. . .’ You can’t do this in the Church! You either participate fully or you remain outside. You can’t pick and choose: the Church is for everyone, beginning with those I’ve already mentioned, the most marginalized. It is everyone’s Church

In a way unlike any pope in my memory, I’m seeing people really mulling over these papal homilies and taking them to heart. I’m still reeling from the conviction Francis handed me over the “dark joy of gossip.” In the face of this “church is for everyone” message, theology professor Greg Hillis found himself equally convicted, and moved to assess what marginalization meant — who the marginalized actually were. He ended up digging pretty deeply:

When I first read them, I rejoiced because I saw in them Pope Francis’ consistent call to us to welcome and embrace those who are on the margins of our society, and those who have been continually marginalized by our church.

However, a very insightful question by my next door neighbour (and friend) on my Facebook page led me to a more expansive, and challenging, understanding of the Pope’s exhortation. On Wednesday I favourably referenced an NCR article that argued that the bishops should disband the Archdiocese for the Military. . .I am a pacifist, and have long been troubled by implicit or explicit support of militarism in the church. I tend to be fairly passionate about this issue, and often critique what I view as militarism in a manner that lacks nuance or charity.

And so, after putting this NCR article on my Facebook page, I proceeded to write my little blog post about Pope Francis’ “It is everyone’s church!” homily. My friend perceptively made this comment about my blog post:

The reality is that I couldn’t push back on his question, because it was precisely the right question to ask . . .the answer cannot be that we shut doors in the faces of those who are invited to the feast, which is precisely what I was suggesting we do.

I’m very thankful for my friend’s comment. For the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that, on a variety of issues and ideas, I have a tendency to want to marginalize those with whom I disagree theologically and/or politically. While I give lip service to the importance of diversity of expression in the church, the truth is that I frequently become so frustrated by those whose viewpoints I find troubling that I long for some way by which their voices would no longer be heard.

But, “It is everybody’s Church!”

Read the whole thing. This is a brave piece. It’s not an easy thing to admit: “yes, I’ve wanted to marginalize others; I’ve wanted to silence others; yes, I’ve wanted to narrow the scope of the church and who I think belongs within it; I’ve wanted to decide where Christ might be given access, and to whom.”

I give Hillis many props for his honesty. The feelings of superior understanding — and the instincts to guard the church from the inclusion of those other, awful people that he is confessing to — are neither new nor limited to “this side” or “that side”. They are all-too-common inclinations and they prompt the kind of uncharitable rhetoric we see being dished out all over the internet almost daily; people sneering at “rad trads!” from one direction and snarls about “church-of-nice quasi-heretics” coming from the other.

I wrote these mobbish mentalities way back in 2010, and have revisited the issue with some frequency since then, and it seems to me things have only gotten worse. I hadn’t thought about all of this, though, in terms of one-to-one, active attempts to marginalize each other, but in principle the reality is the same, and Hillis is correct. When we sit around deciding who the worthy, deserving good guys are, we give room for our inner bad guy to turn despot, all while knowing (as we should know) that no one is worthy; that God attends to worthiness in his own good time — all that is required of us is to be willing.

It doesn’t take a disfiguring disease or a debilitating stammer to make one an outcast; we all become outcasts when we are rejected by others for the differences in our thinking, and since we all do that to each other — all the time — the marginalizing deformity is ultimately within each one of us. Both sinful and sinned against, there really is nothing for it but to throw ourselves on the mercy of God and ask for what Solomon prayed for, too: an understanding heart.

Because it is everyone’s church, and we are all marginalized and marginalizing in turn, and in need of the perfect balance found in the cross.

If we “get” Francis, we have to absorb his lessons

Acts of the Apostasy and Jane the Actuary Come to Patheos!
One governor who can dash Hillary’s ambitions, for good
Lenten Reading: Rosary and Inner Healing
Francis “Endorses Referendum” Denying Gay Marriage, Adoption
About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Win Nelson

    Thank you, Elizabeth.

  • Gloria

    Great insights into Pope Francis’ comments. I’m glad that fat people, people who eat at McDonald’s, white males, Walmart shoppers, and shareholders and heads of corporations are all now seen to be welcome at the feast too. People like Greg Hillis, whose blog you quote, seem to have automatically leapt to the conclusion in the past that his liberal pacifist ideology was identical to the teachings of the Catholic church. Pope Francis is opening up everyone’s minds–left, right, center.

  • Dagnabbit_42


    I feel ya’. Statistically, right-wingers in the U.S. are about twice as generous to the needy as left-wingers, when measured by voluntary charitable giving, volunteerism, blood donations, and service in risky/low-pay rescue-oriented or service-oriented professions. Leftists are good at loudly and publicly supporting policies designed to be showy in the compassion department — whatever their actual effects on society over time — and at praying things like, “I thank thee, God, that I am not like this right-winger: I give to the Sierra Club and I fight for recognition of gay marriage and womynpriests, I don’t watch NASCAR and I support the same policies that all the enlightened and sophisticated people support.”

    That said — and I could go on for pages but I’m already teetering on the edge of hypocrisy just saying what I just took a paragraph to say — that said, the prayer is, “Forgive us our trespasses AS [read: if, and to the same degree that] we forgive those who trespass against us.”

    I don’t know about you, but that bit makes me say, “Oh, crap. Really?”

    Because when it comes to leftists, I really get where King David is coming
    from when, in the Psalms, he’s complaining about all these people who
    make up untrue accusations about him, who trample the little people into
    the dust and sneer at them from their fat-and-happy position of social
    approval, and don’t give a damn, and are always saying, “There is no
    God.” A better description of the left-wing in the U.S. I cannot fathom,
    unless David had actually said the name “Bill Maher.”

    And yet…and yet.

    Hillis is apologizing. About damn time, yes. But…he’s apologizing.

    Forgive him. Fast.

    In fact, forgive all the leftists who haven’t apologized for all their slanders. “They don’t know what they are doing.”

    I’m saying “forgive” in the imperative. But I’m not so much addressing you, Gloria, as myself.

    As you can see from what I wrote thus far, it’s going to be tough work. But I’ve gotta forgive.

    I have to forgive people who give probably half or less of what my family
    gives to the needy, though they probably make more money and have fewer mouths to feed, for calling me “greedy and heartless” because I didn’t support a government takeover of the healthcare economy that incentivizes divorce and abortion and favors big businesses while punishing small businesses and FORESEEABLY, OBVIOUSLY wasn’t going to help the needy as much as any random one of the proposals from the right-side of the aisle. I have to forgive them even though they haven’t, like Hillis, even begun to repent.

    But what of my own sins hurt someone or maligned someone unjustly — and I was so oblivious that I never even knew I was being a jackass and needed to beg forgiveness? I’m such a Pharisee, sometimes; such a prodigal-son’s-elder-brother; such a prig; such an elitist; such a privileged snob: Such a leftist.

    There I go again. This will be very hard.

    God, I forg-g-g-g….


    *grinding teeth*

    Trying again: God, I for…for…oh, for Pete’s sake!


    This is getting to be like the scene in “A Fish Called Wanda” where Kevin Kline’s character Otto is supposed to go and say “sorry” to Cleese’s character and keeps choking on the word.

    God, I forgive the leftists, inside and outside the Church, for being such self-righteous sons of b… Huh, that’s not going to fly, is it?

    This may take awhile. Gloria, I’ll get back to you, let you know how it’s going. Maybe around 2015.

    But I think it’s what we’ve gotta do.

  • crossdotcurve

    Fr. Z doesn’t seem to have got the message. His bile-flecked snark continues unabated.

  • MeanLizzie

    My long-standing policy is not to critique other blogs or bloggers; people are entitled to their work and their opinions. I have enough to do to worry about my own. :-)

  • Roki

    As St. Paul reminds us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

    Yes, repentance is required to enter into the life he offers us. But His offer and call precedes our repentance, and even makes that repentance possible. (St. Thomas Aquinas called this “prevenient grace”.)

    Moreover, for those of us who do repent and strive to live in communion with Christ, we are bound to go to the highways and byways to invite others to join us. We are to invite everybody, without exception: enemies, unrepentant sinners, heretics, fools, and criminals, as well as the noble and the moral and the wise.

    We are not qualified to determine who is or is not worthy of God’s love or gifts. Your concern, CT Catholic Corner, seems to be about sacramental discipline. The rules around this are fairly clear, if not always perfectly enforced. However, the invitation to the feast is for all; the invitation to receive the grace and love of Christ is for all; the call to repentance is for all. Our stewardship of the gifts of God is all about how to distribute those gifts in good measure, not about deciding who should or should not be offered those gifts.