Céad Míle Fáilte Romhat. Really?
A lot to be done before we can say we are a welcoming church
A new hymn that has become increasingly popular is Marty Haugen’s “All are welcome.” “Let us build a house where all can dwell and all can safely live,” goes the first verse, “a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”
It makes a wonderful gathering hymn, and its sentiments are those we hold dear. We are the ‘catholic’ church, after all – big, broad, inclusive, all-embracing. Or so we hope.
And at our best we demonstrate those values clearly. It is a characteristic of the annual solemn novenas in our Redemptorist churches. Many attend who are not regular church-goers. A conscious effort is made in the preaching and in the liturgies to create an atmosphere that is warm, inclusive, and welcoming of all.
In the day-to-day pastoral reality of parish life, most priests and ministers go out of their way to be accommodating towards all-comers. Those who want to get married in church, or have a Christian burial for a loved one, but whose links with the church may be tenuous, are made to feel at home, no uncomfortable questions asked.
Yet it’s clear too that not every Catholic feels welcome in the church, and that not all Catholics are welcoming, or accommodating, of each other.
There is a chasm in the church between those who are more conservative and those labelled more liberal or progressive. It’s in evidence at the synod in Rome these weeks, with talks of walk-outs by conservatives unhappy by what they see as a rigging of the process by Pope Francis.
The traditional point of view states stridently that if a Catholic has a difficulty with or publicly criticises any aspect of church teaching, he or she should go elsewhere. And so they have no tolerance of groups like the Association of Catholic Priests or of clergy whose views have landed them in hot water with the Vatican. Letters to the papers as well as vicious anonymous letters make that quite clear. It would appear that, contrary to the sentiments of that lovely hymn, as far as some Catholics are concerned, all are not welcome.
People in difficult personal circumstances can find themselves unwelcome also. Those who through no major fault of their own are now in a second relationship can feel isolated from the Church, officially categorised as public sinners, not worthy to receive the Body of Christ. It must be hard for them to subscribe to the sentiments of Marty Haugen’s hymn.
Then there are Catholics who are gay or lesbian or transgendered. The Catholic Church is clear that gays and lesbians must be respected and accepted, but when they are referred to in Vatican teaching as “objectively disordered,” it is difficult for them to believe they are accepted and respected. The Church may try to make a distinction between the sinner and the sin (love the sinner, hate the sin), but this doesn’t wash with most people anymore who fail to see such a distinction. It is hard enough to be gay or lesbian in a society where homophobia and homophobic bullying remain so strong that they drive people to suicide without also feeling unwanted by one’s own church.
The first response of most priests to specific issues regarding gays and lesbians is invariably pastoral, as has been the example of Pope Francis when he said “Who am I to judge?” but this contrasts sharply with the church’s official language on gay rights issues which comes across as harsh and hurtful, not only to gays and lesbians, but also to their families. Here again, it would appear that all are not welcome.
If any word summed up the attitude and ministry of the historical Jesus, it was compassion. All were welcome round his table. He used a ministry of inclusion to encourage people to be their best selves. It’s a lesson that hopefully our Church leaders will take on board as they enter the final days of the synod in Rome.
“Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured,taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
…….All are welcome in this place.”
Thank you Gerard for this.It particularly echoed with me as
I sang this hymn as recently as last Sunday at a monthly ALL ARE WELCOME MASS in Dublin, where ALL are indeed welcome,with a special(but not exclusive!)welcome for LGBT people,family members and friends who want to be part of an inclusive praying community.The Eucharist,followed by tea/coffee and chat is held in a church in Dublin (Avila Carmelite Retreat Centre) at 3:30 in the afternoon on the third Sunday of every month.
Catholic teaching does not refer to anyone as “objectively disordered”. Five actions or inclinations are referred to as disordered in the space of eight paragraphs of the Catechism’s section on chastity (2351-2358). The majority of them apply to people with heterosexual inclinations. Everyone, without distinction, is called to be chaste. Those with homosexual inclinations are to be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
Even on the most casual reading, the distinction between sin and sinner is impossible to miss. The language is very clear and straightforward. If “this doesn’t wash with most people anymore”, is it for lack of clarity or because the doctrine is unpopular?
And how is it possible to say that the Church’s official language is harsh and hurtful, and to contrast it with Pope Francis’s pastoral approach when his words, properly quoted, were: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way”.
The Pope thinks the Church’s official language is beautiful. So who are we to judge?
Soline, I am sorry I did not know about the All Are Welcome Mass as I was in Dublin last week. As a student I often went to Westland Row as it is just a few minutes walk from the Dental Hospital. So,on Sunday morning I decided to go along to the 11.30am morning mass there. As I am sure you know, it is a beautiful large, bright and airy church with such a lovely ceiling. I was made to feel very welcome — I was even asked to help with the offertory. We were all invited by the celebrant to offer each other a sign of peace — always a sure indication of the kind environment you have found yourself in. The priest seemed to be a lovely man and, it being mission Sunday, he preached very well, referring more than once to Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium”. I am sure you are now wondering where is this leading. Well, the sad thing was THAT the church was virtually empty. When I arrived, just as the priest was waiting to process up the aisle, there were probably not many more than a hundred in the pews. By communion time, there was a lot more but certainly not many more that a couple of hundred. I felt sad remembering how Westland Row, in days gone by, was often full to overflowing. How times have changed.
A wise person, in dealing with others, knows for which battles one can draw the line & stand fast & which one can ignore in the tumult of life…
The Hierarchy has been repeatedly admonished by Papa Francesco to develop “the smell of the sheep” about themselves. Those who behave like cruel wolves in applying the laws & rules harshly, will soon find few sheep around them…
Westland Row : A congregation of two hundred not enough? Populations move over the years out of the inner city. A large congregation can lack a sense of community, especially in a city. Jesus had only twelve people with him at the last supper. Maybe that’s the ideal number.
John,@5, you are probably right, but two hundred seemed a very small crowd in that lovely big church. I suppose I was just feeling a bit nostalgic.