Who is The Church? Who is the Body of Christ? Who belongs? A temptation exists to spend so much time answering these questions correctly and identifying who is with us and who is against us that we miss out on membership ourselves. Some of us are so busy counting heads, checking purses, and securing a good seat that we are missing the work, the meal, and the party–the main elements of the gathering to which we are invited.
Why is there so much scrutiny of neighbor? Why do we distance ourselves from each other so much? Why do we categorize and label? Are we trying to secure ourselves a place by eliminating others? That is not only un-Christlike, but also counterproductive. Because much of the joy of belonging to The Church is to be found in other people — in loving them and being loved by them. That’s their door prize and ours.
A good number of folks don’t set out to isolate themselves or alienate other Christians. It just sort of happens while they’re busy doing other things. Maybe they get stuck on one aspect of their faith life and concentrate on it so much that before they can really recognize what has happened, it’s too late. They have built an accidental ivory tower. No one can get them down because they have been up there focusing so much on how the people trying to get them down from their tower are The Enemy Inc.
Here are just a sampling of the different ways that Catholics are currently holding each other at arm’s length:
1. By form of worship
2. By number of years in The Church
3. By level of education
4. By socioeconomic level
5. By sin proclivity
6. By age
7. By sex
8. By political leaning
9. By geographical location
10. By pet issue/ministry
There are many more, and I’m sure you, my friends, can help me add to this unfortunate list. I bet you also see one on this top ten that stings a bit. Maybe you have excluded someone, written someone off based on one or more of these. Maybe you yourself have been shut out or not heard or made to feel inferior or even “less Catholic” because of one or more of the above.
My friends, do not allow yourself to be cast aside or made to feel any less a legitimate guest at the banquet because someone has chucked you based on one of these criteria. A Christian who is praying the Sinner’s Prayer constantly will not do this to you, as he or she is too aware of his or her own failings and need for mercy.
More importantly, do not fall into the deep and wide trap of putting miles between you and another Catholic because of the above factors. Do not burn bridges. That is not our way.
You will end up poorer for the decision if you determine that a fellow Christian is not up to snuff because of the type of Mass he attends, whether she is a convert or a cradle Catholic, or because he is a he and you are a she. Don’t say to yourself, “He can never understand the struggles of a mother.” This is simply not true. Every man is the son of a mother, and can offer you unique insight into your vocation.
I have seen a number of well-read and “sophisticated” Catholics simply dismiss the comments of their plain speaking peers. I have seen avowed “conservatives” refuse to even engage a more “liberal” counterpart kindly. I have watched Catholics whose main ministry is fighting poverty completely discount anything said by a Catholic whose focus is fighting abortion.
When did we forget that all the parts of the body have different jobs? That each operates independently but in harmony? That one needn’t take away from the other?
Know also that for each category above, both sides are equally culpable in creating division and putting up walls that prevent true fellowship and productive dialogue. For every Catholic Christian who is saying and writing demeaning and dehumanizing generalizations about the poor, calling them lazy and implying that they are ruining the country, there is another Catholic Christian right behind him in line giving the opposite diatribe, making tasteless and insensitive jokes about the wealthy, assuming that anyone who has reached a certain level of material success is selfish and greedy and has not “died to self.”
At the root of these examples is one common element: pride. Yep, the crown jewel of the seven deadlies. How so? Well, it’s not hard to figure out, friends.
We all begin so well. We begin each day, each year, each conversation, so aware of Jesus watching over our shoulders. We know what we want: Heaven. To please Jesus. To help others. To serve and obey. To pray and to work. To raise saints, and to be saints ourselves. To reflect our Savior in the right way.
Ah, you see the goal shifting? Here’s where the Foe gets his toe in the door. And we just open it wide and let him in for coffee and strudel. Somehow we get that desire to be good Catholics mixed up with being bouncers at the door of a Catholic night club. And when we are busted being exclusionary, snobby, elitist, condescending, alienating, we start to holler out some key phrases.
“Fraternal correction!” is a favorite one. It rings so hollow, my friends, because anyone with an ear to what was going on could ascertain that there was nothing fraternal about what they heard. And then it’s irretrievable, isn’t it? The outside world, the unbeliever, the person who is on the fence, the seeker, the person considering coming Home to Rome has now watched firsthand as a “good” Catholic has been a total and complete beast. And been too prideful to admit it, as he goes down in flames, calling out, “But I was only trying to help her be a better person,” or “But I was only sharing the Truth!”
Here’s a final self-diagnostic tool. Do you think you are the kind of person who would attract someone to Christ? If your response is, “My job is not to be attractive to the sinful world; it’s to be holy,” then you are already in defensive mode. You are already justifying a hard, cold, off-putting part of yourself that you know may be alienating the very folks we are supposed to be evangelizing.
We are fishers of men. The idea is to get them into the boat with us, not gut them with a knife, throw them overboard, and keep on sailing on to glory.