In Sacred Scripture, being faithful to God was never equated with being respectable in the eyes of society. Just look at all those biblical characters who we raise up as examples of faithful people; they were hardly respectable. In their own time, these paragons of faith were considered to be quacks and for good reason.
What would you think about a fellow like Noah who built a huge ship, far from any large body of water? Or a man like Abraham who still trusted God for a son for decades, even after his wife was menopausal? Or what about a general like Gideon who challenged a huge army by ordering his dwindling troops of 300 to bang on their shields and uncover lanterns after dismissing 31,700 men in his army?
Jesus himself shocked the respected, religious of his day. He upset their conventions, shocked their sensibilities; the Pharisees thought Jesus was a bad influence. In the opinion of the Pharisees, God Incarnate was not holy but from the evil one. From our perspective, this reaction seems shocking but would we react any differently to Jesus or these faithful Old Testament men if we met them today?
Somehow, in the modern Church, we have confused the notion of an upstanding, respectable citizen with the notion of a what it means to be a faithful Catholic. Pope Francis is challenging this attitude in his weekly Wednesday addresses. In his talk on The Eucharist, the Holy Father asks the faithful directly, “Do you go to Mass thinking that you are better than those who do not attend Church?” The pope concludes that if you are proud, you might as well stay at home because Church is for those who recognize that they are sinners in need of forgiveness not for the self-righteous. We start the mass by asking for forgiveness,
” I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”
The attitude of parishioners affects the atmosphere of each parish. Pope Francis is also concerned with how the poor and marginalized feel when they step over the threshold into the sanctuary. Do they feel welcome at your church?
I just read a reflection from a woman who accidentally experienced what an outsider must experience when they attend Mass. She is a nurse who happened upon a car accident on her way to her regular Mass. She stayed till the ambulance came but by then she was covered in blood and grime from kneeling in the street. Rather than miss church completely, she simply put her top on inside out to hide most of the mess and popped into a neighbouring Church with a later Mass. The reaction of the other parishioners was like a slap in the face. People edged away from her and at the sign of peace ignored her outstretched hand and turned the other way. This nurse, a reader and faithful member of her parish was treated like a pariah because she looked poor and badly groomed. Sadly this reaction is probably the norm in most parishes where polite, respectable citizens congregate with other good, upright taxpayers. Hardly the kind of people who gathered around Jesus when he was on earth.
St. Paul warns us not to give the best seat to the rich but to welcome the poor and the marginalized to Eucharistic celebrations. Our Mass. the sanctuary, why even the stones themselves should radiate the Love of God, shining like a beacon, beckoning the sick at heart, in spirit and in body to come and share in the Good News of salvation and partake of the Body of Christ. We proclaim the truth at every Mass.
“Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
These words are not only for the churched, but even more so for the unchurched. Let’s do everything we can to make sure the needy actually hear these words at Mass. Let’s be faithful rather than merely respectable.