Thursday, October 30, 2014

None Are Welcome

 We have deep respect for people with same-sex attraction, but we can’t pretend that they’re welcome on their own terms. None of us are welcome on our own terms in the Church; we’re welcome on Jesus’ terms. That’s what it means to be a Christian—you submit yourself to Jesus and his teaching, you don’t recreate your own body of spirituality.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, Erasmus Lecture, October, 2014

Reflection – This quote has been bouncing around on social media this past week, and I personally find it such a beautiful encapsulation of the heart of so many issues, that I wanted to close off the month of October—‘month of the Synod’—with it.

‘None of us are welcome on our own terms in the Church’ – this is a statement for the ages. I personally find it, not a harsh or unkind formulation, but actually something that thrills me and moves my heart.

I’m not sure why this is so. Perhaps it is because it has been many, many years since I realized that my own terms were so narrow and poor, tangled and twisted, that I would be much better off living on Jesus’ terms for the rest of my life.

I think that is it: it may seem that surrendering our own terms to live on Jesus’ terms, accepting Him and His teachings (which, if you are Catholic, you believe to have been entrusted to His Catholic Church without error) is a great loss for us, a terrible sacrifice, an acceptance of a life that is smaller and poorer, lonelier and bleaker.

All I can say is that my experience, which is far from complete, has been that as I simply forget about ‘my own terms’ – my ideas, my self-concept, my likes, my deepest convictions even – and throw myself into the arms and heart of Jesus, completely accept what the Gospel and what the Church teaches me about Jesus and about life, my life becomes richer, more beautiful, more joyous, more peaceful.  More. Simply more.

We think we know who we are. We think we know what our life is about. We think we know what is important. We think we know so many things. We are wrong. Even when we are right (IBELIEVEINGODTHEFATHERALMIGHTY, DAMMIT!), we are wrong.

Life is a perpetual surrender of the fortress of the self into the sweet captivity of the Lord, which is true freedom. Life is a perpetual collapse of our defenses, the dissolving of our lines of resistance, the white flag going up, the glum acceptance of our defeat at the hands of our Adversary—only to discover that He is the great captain of the liberating army come to cast down all tyranny from our souls forever.

It is all so much better than we realize—this loss of our selves and our certainties, our ‘terms’. God’s terms are better, and that is the great lesson every single human being has to learn, or perish.

And we all have to learn it—those ‘inside’ the Church most of all, perhaps. It is so easy for us to become smug and sure of ourselves, and so quietly substitute our dreary old terms for the flaming charity of Christ.

We all have to learn it—the gay and the straight, the married, the cohabitating, and the divorced, the faithful and the faithless, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. We all have to learn it. That contemporary hymn got it wrong: none are welcome, not the way we think we should be welcomed. All are welcome, but only at the cost of opening ourselves up to radical, complete, total conversion of heart daily, always, until the end of our lives when we finally lose our fight with God and our terms finally pass away—and we enter into the infinite, eternal courts of heaven and know ourselves at last to be what we always were becoming—sons and daughters of God caught up into the life of the Spirit, the life of the Son, the life and love of the Father.

None are welcome and all are welcome, and all in all are welcome on exactly the same terms, which is the mercy of God transforming us all into mercy, in a radical transformation the ‘terms’ of which we cannot measure or comprehend in any fashion.

It is all so much better than we realize it to be now.


  1. "Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than omnipotent moral busy bodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will do without end because they do so with the approval of their own consciences" CS Lewis

  2. Reminds me of the Pharisee praying at the temple loudly, proudly, smug in his self perceived righteousness. That is the trap some of the loudest on-line bloggers fall into, their own deluded views that they are the arbitrates of judgment, of right and wrong on Earth when they are not.

    That is why this recent huff-n-puff over the Synod was a good thing, it allowed us all a chance to see which bloggers were more concerned with posting a knee-jerk reaction rather then taking the time to prayerfully study the whole and the context of the whole This Synod was meant to raise the questions, to be the meeting that dared to touch the third rail of Catholic life today, to utter the unspoken pondering of a world always in flux as it batters Catholic teachings and Truth. The Synod was never meant as a meeting to make changes or suggestions this go round but to talk and sift the issues for next years meeting.

    Your posts Fr Denis and a few others on-line became the litmus test of how a Catholic blogger reads the news and forms opinions in regards to that news. The ones like you who hit a strong pause button are the ones I will now read first to ascertain a more broad insight to what is being discussed in the world through Catholic media. For we are all called to raise up to Jesus' standards and to leave our pride filled, judgmental ways behind. We all must shake the Etch-A-Sketch of our ways and learn to crawl anew being slowly taught again to walk with He who came to teach us all the way of the narrow path.

  3. In the words of Saint Augustine: "Sing to him a new song. Rid yourself of what is old and worn out, for you know a new song. A new man, a new covenant -- a new song. This new song does not belong to the old man. Only the new man learns it: the man restored from his fallen condition through the grace of God, and now sharing in the new covenant, that is, the kingdom of heaven. To it all our love now aspires and sings a new song. Let us sing a new song not with our lips but with our lives."

  4. Benevolent anonymousOctober 31, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    Great post of course. I would just hesitate over one line, which could be misinterpreted. "Even when we are right (IBELIEVEINGODTHEFATHERALMIGHTY, DAMMIT!), we are wrong." Luther said (or it is attributed to him) that human nature after salvation is like a pile of manure covered with snow. There is such a thing as baptism of regeneration, and a New Man.

    1. Good point! Yes, of course there is a real transformation that really happens - precisely what we are celebrating as I write this on November 1! I also know, though, that we can wrap ourselves in our own rightness and our 'having the right answers' - orthodoxy as a most subtle substitute for holiness - and this is something to be vigilant about, eh? I would say that the mark of one who is both orthodox in belief and turning each day to Christ for radical transformation is the quality of mercy, a certain gentleness or tenderness with human weakness. Anyhow - yes, though - your point is well taken.

  5. Father I do not mean to disagree with your thoughts on this subject. Blogs and comments do not give the space for real communication. My personal bias is that this whole concept of “welcome” can be so easily misunderstood. One could suggest that the parable of the prodigal gives some insight into welcome? The father shows the welcome of divine agape and the elder son shows the “default” setting of human welcome? To welcome is not the same as giving approval to behaviors or sins, but to affirm the goodness of the other. Pope Francis has compared the church to an emergency clinic in a battle field, all are received and no questions are asked if they have insurance or medical coverage. All are welcomed and received because the church sees the inner goodness in them as a child of God, no matter how hidden it maybe.

    Another example of welcome would be someone going to a 12 step meeting, they are welcome no matter what their situation is …..maybe they will hear the message and start the journey to recovery. maybe they are not ready, but they are welcomed and one hopes a seed is planted and they will return when they are ready to seek deeper healing.

    It seems to me, divine agape is expressed in welcoming all, that we always cast out into the deep, that we always pray and sacrifice for those who come to us in darkness and bondage, and we pray that by our lives they will be attracted to the beauty of conversion and the joy of a life transformed by grace. As long as the love of God lives and is active in us, everything else works out. In our weakness Christ is drawing all to himself.

  6. having read my comment i see how poorly i expressed myself.
    it seems to me the dynamic is that divine agape always loves first and none of us can change till we encounter that love. the portal to this love is welcome, because divine love will never give up on the goodness it planted in us at our creation. it may only be a smoldering
    ember, but in the process of conversion it will slowly grow into a small flame, and finally into the divine fire of love itself. but it all starts with the Father's welcome when i felt totally unworthy.

    1. I totally agree with you. I am, I realize, playing around with these ideas of 'welcome', 'all' and 'none', partially to be provocative (as is my wont!), but provocative in the service of deep reflection, which you are providing. God welcomes us all - I wrote whole book on the parable of the prodigal son, and it is 'my' Gospel, if I can presume to put it that way. My point is that this welcome is, and can only, be ordered towards doing something, and that thing it is doing is bringing us into that radical repentance and conversion. To seek welcome without being at all interested or willing to repent/convert is to seek welcome without welcoming the God who welcomes, if I can put it that way.
      But your point is excellent, and I agree with it in full. God bless you.

  7. Father I m sure we agree, probably just expressing the same thing from different perspectives (which is the point of sharing!)
    For the sake of discussion, lets say the younger son did not want to repent when he went home. He just wanted to get out of the mess he was in and figured even the worst job at his Father's house was better than what he was living.
    His Father did not just welcome him with conditions, but with an open heart, and the son was deeply touched by this love. his misery, embraced by grace, drew him to want to love the Father back. my experience has been in my life and in others i know, that we must be touched by love first, only that allows us to convert. we may not always know what we want, or desire, but if we are touched by the grace of wakens in us and we learn to respond with love.and sometimes an unexpected welcome starts the whole process.

    thomas merton has a beautiful line in one of his journals where he is talking to the Blessed Mother and he says something like (quoting from memory) "thank you for looking on me with love and waking in me something i thought had died long ago."

    we do not know if the younger son went home for selfish motives or not, but we can hope that after experiencing love in his need and failure, he could finally convert by never hurting or betraying a Father who so love him.

    for some conversion may be an act of will and a clear decision they make, but for many it is the fruit of being loved first and surprised by a joy that opened up something deep in them....their conversion was the fruit of the Father's embrace. well i am sorry for hitting this over
    over, but it is a point that seems lost in many discussions on mercy.


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