Friday, August 7, 2020

What Are You Here For?

When GK Chesterton once remarked, “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong,” he was certainly correct about what we need and should want from the Catholic Church. But what we are seeing more and more is Catholics demanding a Church that confirms that they are right and their enemies are wrong. When the Church points out that they themselves have missed the point of being a Catholic, they become outraged. They see it as “proof” that the Church is erring. 

That is a dangerous attitude to take because it means that we no longer want a Church to teach us. We want a Church to praise usand punish them. We think that our pointing out the sins of the world and wanting chastisement is good. But actually, when James and John wanted to do this (Luke 9:54), Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55). He came to save the sinners… and those sinners include us.

It’s not wrong, of course, to want the Church to remove corruption and scandal from her midst. But we also have to remember that Our Lord used a parable about the weeds and the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). In it, the Master forbids pulling up the weeds for fear of pulling up the wheat too. As I understand it, while they are ripening, the two were virtually identical. I imagine that imagery is apt. How many of us, if we had been targeted for wrath earlier on in our lives, would have been seen as weeds? If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us will have to admit to resembling one.

With this in mind, we may need to ask whether that hypocritical person near us in the pews might be in the same situation now that we were then. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses… as we forgive those who trespass against us! Our Lord does warn:  If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14–15)

Logically, if we come to God for forgiveness, we must forgive others and desire their salvation, not their punishment. No doubt, some will refuse to repent when the opportunity for Grace comes. But it’s not for us to judge when it comes and whether our foes received it. As members of the Church, we do need to make known what people are required to do in to be faithful to God, and that does not permit acting passively in the face of sins and scandal to be sure. Yes, we do need to sometimes admonish the sinners. But “admonish the sinners” is not synonymous with “act like an arrogant jerk towards sinners.” 

So, when we’re annoyed by the Church failing to act in a way we think best, we need to ask what we are expecting of the Church. If we’re expecting the Church to act like a stereotyped version of the Spanish Inquisition, we’re seeking the wrong thing. But if we’re seeking salvation for our own sins, then let us keep in mind that forgiveness is given to the merciful, not the self-righteous (cf. Luke 5:32). We should keep in mind that, while we might never be tempted to commit the abominable sins that others do, we do need the Grace of God to deliver us from other sins… because the deadliest sin for each of us is the one we make excuses for instead of repent over.

So, when we’re annoyed with the Church for failing to deal with others as we see fit, while focusing on things that tend to denounce our political favorites, let’s ask ourselves why we’re here being Catholics instead of “nones.” It seems to me that if we’re here to celebrate our own values and wanting others to be rebuked, we’re acting like Pharisees (cf. Luke 18:9-14) and are here for the wrong reasons. But if we’re here because we first know we are sinners in need of salvation, and approach the correction of sinners from the perspective of gratitude to God and wanting to share and help those in a similar situation, then we’re here for the right reasons. It’s something to think about.

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