A Quote From the Holy Father Pope Francis
“May the Church be a place of God’s mercy and hope, where all feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the good life of the Gospel. And to make others feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged, the Church must be with doors wide open so that all may enter.” – General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, June 12, 2013
“The Year of Mercy” and Reaching Out
We are in “The Year of Mercy” declared by our Holy Father Pope Francis at the beginning of the liturgical calendar year. This is a time of welcoming for all into the Church. This is a time of love and of forgiveness and of new beginnings. New beginnings for people who are currently members of our faith and also a time to “open doors” for those who feel impelled by the power of the Holy Spirit to walk through the doors of the Church and decide to stay. By this, I am referring to the decision to make faith a real part of one’s daily life and to celebrate the Sacraments of the Church as full members.
Recently, I have been writing on the topic of relationships within the Church and I will continue to explore these topics in “The Year of Mercy” we are in now. By “relationships”, I am referring to the communal aspect of faith and how we communicate and show the love of God to other people. This means all people not just Catholics and Christians.
We have been given a real gift in the Catholic Faith, that being the very gift of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion and in our Sacraments which we celebrate together as a worldwide community. Being a part of the “Mystical Body of Christ”, with all of its members in the world, is a true joy. We know this is a joy that will last for all eternity if we continue to stay on the path with God and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit each day.
Identifying the Problem and Asking God for Help
With all of this in mind, we can thank God for everything He has given us in our lives, including all the graces we receive from the Church. When it comes to newcomers and even ourselves, sometimes our first experiences of “the Church” comes from the interactions we have with other people who are also members of our respective parishes. There are the faces who greet us as we enter the doors, the people who work for the Church, who answer phones, emails or comment on our social media posts. Then there are our neighbors, the parents of the children who attend school with our own kids, leaders of different Church ministries and of course, the clergy. These are some examples of “peers” in the Church. All of these people make up our experiences with other Christians and our Church family. Hopefully, for the most part, these interactions are positive and life-giving.
Since we live in a fallen world, we know experienced interactions with others which were not positive. Maybe as you are reading this, some examples come to your mind. I know for me, I remember the negative experiences and it has been a struggle to forgive and let go. However, just like any other problem in life, it is better to face problems “head on” with prayer and an openness to the Holy Spirit rather than to pretend they do not exist.
A former Spiritual Director of mine once made the following statement which I had to admit can be true in some Churches some of the time. This statement had some added humor, so it is not completely factual and serious but it does have some truth to it. He said, “If you’re ever in dire need, don’t call the Parish Office of a Church because you’ll get the runaround and you won’t get the help you need.” He was referring to the fact that sometimes Church office staff are not always known for their kindness and willingness to help people who may be in need of immediate help or have questions and concerns that require a caring individual to take the time to help and listen. Of course, I am not saying this as any kind of a “blanket statement”. I am absolutely sure that this is not true in all or even in most cases. However, I do think this point is something to consider when it comes to our own willingness to show a welcoming spirit to others both at Church and in all of our interactions with other people.
I know in my own lifetime, I have seen this type of behavior in Church ministries and in offices, and it does sadden my heart and cause me to pray that all of us as a Church will begin to rethink our behavior to better reflect what we stand for as a Church. This also leads me to ponder more closely the topic I have chosen for this article which is that of “cliques” in the Church.
Cliques in the Church
Cliques are groups of individuals who are usually friends who are closed in on themselves and are not welcoming to newcomers. Any of us who have been through school and especially high school remember the different cliques and groups of friends who shared a common interest but were not open to allowing new people into their group. If we are a member of a clique and feel comfortable, maybe it is not a problem. However, Christ calls us to commune and welcome “the stranger” and keep the doors of our hearts open to others, especially those who need a friend or who feel lost and alone.
In the Catholic Church and in the faith world, cliques should not exist, but they do. And just as they exist in the corporate world, cliques exist in Church offices, ministries, rectories and in many Church groups and ministries as well as the schools. I am sure none of this information comes as a surprise. Experience has taught me that the first step to attempting to find a solution to a problem is to first recognize it for what it is. After the problem has been identified, the next step, through the grace of God, is to begin the initials steps to tackle the problem at hand. This is only done through much prayer and cooperation with the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ himself guiding us along the paths of freedom and holiness. God can assist all of us to be more welcoming, friendly, helpful and open to newcomers and those who really need our help. Many times a simple smile, a kind gesture and the ability to really listen to people’s need and concerns can make all the difference in creating a Christ-centered atmosphere in any given situation which is absolutely vital for growth in the Church.
Offering prayers to the Holy Spirit and being patient with ourselves and with others is a good step to take to defeat the problem of “cliques in the Church”. I would add being mindful of others needs in situations where it is clear that ‘this person is alone and needs some help’. It may be a person on the phone, an email that needs a response or the person who enters Church alone and does not feel welcomed by the congregation or staff at the Church. Keeping our eyes open for the ‘loner’ or depressed-seeming person who could use a good friend or some outreach by someone is a very good thing to do. Having felt the pain of depression myself, I can say for sure that even a smile or a simple phone call or text message can make all the difference to someone who feels outside of the “clique”.
Lord Heal and Help Us!
We ask the Lord to guide us on our journey with him and with others to know the love of God and spread his love in the “Year of Mercy” where we celebrate the welcoming arms of our Savior! Let us offer this prayer to God:
Father in Heaven, we thank you for the awesome gift of the Catholic faith and of the Church. Please bless our efforts to welcome newcomers and also to reach out to our own brothers and sisters in order to spread your love to the whole world. We ask you to purify our hearts and give us the virtue to reach out to people who need our help within the Church and would like to join us to celebrate your love in the Sacraments of our faith. Please help us to open our hearts more fully to others so that exclusive “cliques” begin to diminish in the Church and in the world! We thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit which will assist us to carry out your Will. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.