I’m late with the blogging today, as my brain had not quite woken up at the time that I usually write my blog post (6.30-7.00 a.m., if you’re keeping track of these things). On Wednesdays we’ve been reading through the Pope’s address to the Roman Curia from way back before Christmas. People took it at the time as a stern rebuke to those nasty so-and-sos in Rome; I am taking it on this blog as a darned good examination of conscience for all the nasty so-and-sos who read it (and the one who writes it).
We are getting close to the end of this exercise, with ‘disease number fourteen’, which is:
The disease of closed circles, where belonging to a clique becomes more powerful than belonging to the Body and, in some circumstances, to Christ himself. This disease too always begins with good intentions, but with the passing of time it enslaves its members and becomes a cancer which threatens the harmony of the Body and causes immense evil – scandals – especially to our weaker brothers and sisters. Self-destruction, “friendly fire” from our fellow soldiers, is the most insidious danger. It is the evil which strikes from within; and, as Christ says: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste” (Lk 11:17).
We always have to watch out, don’t we, for the tendency for the Church to become a club. For what is meant to be the sacrament of Christ’s presence in the world, his very Mystical Body operating in time and history, his voice in the voices of its members preaching the Gospel unceasingly, his hands and feet in the hands and feed of its members going out continually into the world to do good, his heart in the hearts of its members continually loving, continually striving to grow in love, to extend the boundaries of love to encompass the whole of the human race—for all of that to become a social circle, a guild, a nice little cozy enclave to feel safe in.
Even more so can this happen in groups within the Church, be it the parish choir, the altar guild, the Knights, or (ahem) Madonna House. Every single group in the Church is meant to be patterned on the whole of the Church, and so is called to that same expansiveness, that same open door, open heart, open welcome, open arms reaching out to gather in.
There is no room for cliques in the Church, but alas they do find their way in, don’t they? It is perhaps the single great failure of the Church as a body, as a group, that we fail to maintain that depth of openness and hospitality, inclusivity and welcome that we truly are called to be.
I realize that in using the ‘i’ word in the previous sentence, I need to clarify. I would prefer not to, but such is our confused times. Inclusivity does not mean that everyone gets to come into the Church and remain just as they are; it does not mean that the Church ceases to teach what is true and good, as has been revealed to it from all time by the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Tradition; it does not mean that we cease to call every man and woman, no matter what, to ongoing conversion and repentance and heroic virtue.
Inclusivity does mean, however, a deep compassion for every man and woman as they struggle with whatever their sins may be. Inclusivity does mean that we are very slow—very slow indeed, glacially slow in fact—to say to any person “Your sins are too much for our Church to handle.” Inclusivity does mean that we get over our squeamishness, our prudishness, our delicate sensibilities and be willing to get down in the mud where people actually are, not so as to abandon all notions of purity and get all muddy ourselves, but because that is where people need to be helped the most.
And inclusivity does mean a great patience, a great tolerance, a great willingness to suffer with and for and from the ‘other’, be it someone labouring with some terrible sexual sins or someone labouring with a bad temper, a miserly purse, or a rigid harsh judgmentalism.
All are welcome, indeed. All are part of the Church, indeed. And all are called to die in Christ so as to be born again in Him, all to be changed by the grace of God, all to turn away from sin (whatever it is) to be remade in the image of the Pure One of God, Love Incarnate.
Cliques, claques, and clubs put an end to all of that, no matter what form they may take. We are called to Christian maturity, Christian adult missionary and evangelical responsibility—all of us, lay people, clergy, everyone. And that call to maturity means embracing deeply and with totality the call to radical hospitality, outreach, warm personal love for every human being, and to give ourselves wholly to the mission of the Shepherd to gather all the sheep into the one sheepfold.
This is our call, and the way to that call is as near and obvious as the person in front of us right now who needs our attention and our love. So let’s do that, right now.