Rhode Island’s bishop, Thomas Tobin, penned a commentary on Marty Haugen’s oft-vilified song, offering these conclusions about the quality being “misinterpreted and abused.” Let’s read:
When we say “all are welcome” it does not mean that someone can join our faith community without professing the faith we share; without accepting our fundamental tenets and teachings; without agreeing to support the mission of the Church – personally, spiritually and, yes, financially too.
I can’t really argue with much here, except that it sets the bar a bit low. Hang an asterisk on this one. Being a Catholic is not only about professing faith, but being an active disciple. Disciples do more than support the mission. They actively pursue the mission.
When we say “all are welcome” it does not mean that someone is entitled to work for the Church or fill a ministerial position while being publicly involved in an immoral relationship or activity that contradicts the fundamental principles and well-known teachings of the Church on matters of faith and morals.
The challenge here is that this standard is applied differently. It’s a relative thing. Until recently, bishops have been “entitled” regardless of the degree of immoral activity. Parish priests have a somewhat different standard, a bit lower, as many report. Often, lay people are hired to do a job, but if closer investigation turns up an irregular living situation, a silent “agreement” is voided and the person is turned out. For my interpretation, I fail to see the problem with relationship irregularities unrelated to assigned tasks. What if we just didn’t fire people?
When we say “all are welcome” it does not indicate that everyone is invited to march up in the Communion line to receive Holy Communion without being properly disposed. In practice that requires those who receive Holy Communion to be a member of the Church, be free of mortal sin, and intend to receive the Holy Eucharist with proper decorum, respect and reverence.
No asterisk here.
The point is that indeed, “all are welcome” to become part of our Catholic community and share in our services, programs and worship. But those words do not mean that we have no community identity – that we jettison all of our expectations, doctrines and disciplines simply to create an idyllic Mister-Rogers-like little neighborhood filled with tinkling pianos, butterflies and rainbows.
I suppose I have to hang something weightier than an asterisk on this caricature of a Christian minister and his approach to gentleness via television. We could do a lot worse than live in such a neighborhood.
The hard truth is, that while all are welcome, not everyone is suited for the Catholic community. If they cannot freely accept the faith and teachings of the Church, if their conscience or lifestyle leads them elsewhere, so be it. We will wish them well and pray that God accompanies them in their journey of faith.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, whose writing and speaking I admire, put it this way: “We should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness. Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. In fact, it may be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay.”
On the other hand, we should be very afraid of a smaller, lighter church whose members are more bitter, more hardened, more narcissistic, and more committed to running a personalized country club for like-minded scrooges. Even so, I wouldn’t want these folks ejected into the outer darkness. It may be healthier for them to get healed under the influence of those who understand mercy. And it keeps the rest of us from succumbing to the temptation to construct a Church that also looks more like us and our friends.