“Be kind to your neighbor as yourself” … Said Jesus Never

With the work of the new evangelization, we hear over and over the invitation to be a more welcoming Church. So we are updating our websites, putting up campus maps and signs, recruiting greeters… and yet our Holy Father and Archbishop Lori continue to challenge us to be even more welcoming.

We must remember that the emphasis on welcoming comes from Christ’s command to LOVE our neighbor as ourselves. This is a much greater command than to simply “be kind” to our neighbor. How so?

A welcoming Church … At all costs??

With all this emphasis on welcoming, we must make sure that our concept of welcoming does not become misconstrued.

  • A welcoming Church is a church that loves authentically… and does NOT confuse love for a false kindness (Read how C.S. Lewis describes this error here – one of the best descriptions of our modern sense of “kindness”).
  • A welcoming Church invites people to live in the fullness of Truth… it does NOT compromise the Truth for what may be more comfortable at the time.
  • A welcoming Church seeks out the lost, the orphaned, the forgotten, the lonely… not to make them the object of our pity, but to invite them as our brothers and sisters into the family of God.
  • A welcoming Church proclaims the freedom that the Gospel offers… it does NOT shy from the vocation to be prophets in a secularized society.
  • A welcoming Church LOVES, and that means it lives its mission to bring us to conversion… it does NOT take the “affirm no matter what” route (despite the popularity it might bring).

We are reminded in this season of Lent that the call to conversion is essential to our mission. Welcoming is an act of love, an act of charity, and St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that speaking the truth is the first and most important act of charity.

But Jesus Wasn’t Harsh

Really? The opposite of welcoming would be isolating, alienating – those are the effects of sin. Love unites; sin divides. So if we seek to be a welcoming Church, authentic love must be our guide. If we’re wondering what this love looks like, let’s take a look at the Master, the God who is Love. Msgr. Pope describes Him in this way:

We follow a Lord who was anything but a harmless hippie, or a kind pushover. He introduced tension, was a sign of contradiction, and was opposed by many because he didn’t always say and do pleasant things. Not everything he said was “nice.” He often used strong words: hypocrites, brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs, murderers of the prophets, and evildoers. He warned of judgment and Hell. He spoke in parables about burning cities, doom, destruction, wailing and grinding of teeth, and of seeing enemies slain. These are not kind words, but they are loving words, because they seek to shock us unto conversion. They speak to us of our true state if we remain rebels. (Msgr. Charles Pope, The Not-so-Nice Origins and Meanings of the Word “Nice”)

Why would Jesus talk this way? “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10). That’s true love. Abundance of life is a simple course: turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. Here’s a fitting quote for a season where we are called to “set the oppressed free” (Is. 58:6): “The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” (Herbert Agar) Good thing Jesus cared more about our freedom than our preferences.

But what about the Year of Mercy?!?!

Well, this why we need mercy! We are hard to save. Only boatloads of grace and mercy are going to break through the stubbornness of some. But mercy is accessed through repentance. The Lord is knocking but we have to answer through repentance. Oh, sinner, why don’t you answer? Someone is knocking at your door! (Msgr. Charles Pope, Scripture’s Sober Assessment of the Hardness of Many Human Hearts and What it Means for Evangelization)

That’s why Pope Francis commissioned the missionaries of mercy to be dedicated to the sacrament of reconciliation. That’s why in one of his first Wednesday catechesis in his series on mercy he tackles the question of a merciful God who is also a just God. The principal act of mercy is to call us back to communion with God (a.k.a. conversion!).

Our welcome must be authentic.

It must come from a heart that is on fire with the love infused by the Holy Spirit. When we welcome, we are inviting to the full beauty of life in Christ.

 [The Church] cannot empty that welcome of meaning, either by severity or by laxity. It would be no welcome at all if the means of grace were not made abundantly available to all who seek Christ. At the same time, it would be untrue and therefore uncharitable not to make known what the Gospel welcome requires.  To cut corners on either the invitation or the demands would be to fail to imitate the Good Shepherd. (Fr. Paul Scalia, The Gospel “Welcome”)

How have you experienced the freedom of being called to repentance? What are ways we can overcome the fear of calling others to a change?

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