Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The welcoming Church. . .

Much is made of the climate of hospitality within the Church and rightfully so.  Hospitality is to the Church at least as much as what it was Jesus.  But as with Jesus, the hospitality of the  Church is so often misunderstood.  The presumption is that unless we welcome and accept people just the way they are, we are not being welcoming at all.  Well, Jesus ate and drank with sinners but He did not leave them in their sin nor did He approve of their sins or condone their sinning.  Our Lord's hospitality was ripe with the heart of mercy to welcome but it sent them forth with the warning to go and sin no more.

The Church's hospitality is not to make people outside feel at home on the inside.  Indeed, this is a betrayal of our Lord and His establishment of the Church.  The Church is in but not of the world, a people whose citizenship is in heaven even while they sojourn here below.  Hospitality is manifested not by making the stranger feel at home in the presence of God but by calling them to repentance so that they may know the true fruit of His hospitality in the gift of a clear conscience through absolution.  Hospitality does not mean that we come and stay as we are except that we now have the blessing of God upon our sinThe welcome of God bids us come to the mercy that will transform us so that we are not the people we were.  This welcome is inclusive not because it allows us all to remain who we think we are but that it provides to every tribe, nation, race, and people the new birth of water and the Spirit and the faith that rejoices in the God who chose to forgive us despite the outrageous cost of that redemption.

It is a tiresome and wearisome thing to constantly have to refute the idea that the Church should look like your living room or mall or whatever place you find comfortable or that the liturgy should be able to be comprehended and understood without catechesis.  It is a real offense to suggest that the music of the Church should take its cue from culture or that its purpose is to entertain us by conforming to our preferences.  It is the most pathetic thing the Church can do to defer to the present moment even while she is addressing the temporal with eternity.  But we are still confronted with those in the Church who pester us with these same worn out ideas and ideals.  We will not stand out or stand up in this world by caving into the pressure to conform.  We must end up choosing -- faithfulness to God for the sake of the lost or faithlessness in pursuit of a fragile relevance.

Our welcome must spring from and be focused upon the cross where redemption was one and it must appeal not to the imagination of a diversity in which there is no truth but to the truth that informs and unifies all the diverse.  It is not inhospitable to speak to the stranger of sin for if we fail to do this the stranger will have no need for or wonder in the grace of absolution.  It is not inhospitable to require baptism and some level of instruction as entrance into the family and access to the family table.  Those kneeling at the altar have come not for a me'n'Jesus moment but to enter into the presence of the God who has made one of the many -- including even and especially the dead who have died in Christ and are therefore not really dead!  

The best welcome we can give the world is to preach and teach the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen and call them into the fullness of His life by baptizing them into Christ, restoring them through confession and forgiveness, and feeding their hungry souls with the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.  Hospitality is not some fragile and weak need to cater to the whims of those not yet of the kingdom or those who have not learned to serve and who delight too much in being served.  No, hospitality mean being welcomed with the Word of the Lord that endures forever and which is constantly calling us to repentance so that no sin may deprive us of all that Christ died and rose to give us.  The most hospitable thing we can do is to be faithful as a Church, as individuals within that Church, and as the pastors charged with the flock that belongs to Jesus. 

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