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The secret to a full Church, what can we do? Why do we allow other people to influence our lives so much? I remember many talks and studies on the importance of participation in the life of the Church. Sin is a darkness which shames us into a corner. In addition, the power of sin separates us. After that the evil one further shames us into allowing ourselves to be ashamed of sins. As a result we are pushed further away from the love of the Church. I am pretty sure that judging our neighbors is not part of our job description.

I had the wonderful experience of working with individuals coming into the faith through the RCIA process. One of my favorite jobs was working with those who are returning to the practice of their faith. Consequently, I would say, almost every Catholic I have known, has fallen away for one reason or another.

Many times their issues were not from major theological arguments, or even Liturgical qualms, the person most of the time separated over the other people of the church. No not the priest, or the office staff. Incidentally, the people in the pews were most of all the complaints of others. This was in each parish I was involved with.

Judgment

One incident where a woman came to me and wanted to return to her faith. She was the niece to a very prominent woman, in a relatively small parish. When she was younger she had an abortion, she had been married outside of the faith and lived that way for many years. Her current husband after they divorced their respective spouses, married and had a child together. She had come to me because he had found out he had Multiple Sirois and they wanted to get everything situated and start living life correctly.

Her fear of returning to the Church was what people would think of her. She was scared the community would find out she didn’t get married in the Church, and her daughter was born out of wedlock, what they would say if they found out about the abortion. Incidentally, they knew she was married outside of the Church and sure enough the jeers and gossip began. In addition, her husband also wanted to become Catholic, but again, the people of the parish made sure they were unwelcomed because of their sinfulness. They never came back. Thank God they defended their church…..Not, the Secret to a full Church.

Parish Gossip not a secret to a full church

Another young lady decided after many years married outside of the faith she wanted to return to her faith and have her two year old son Baptized. A member of a little larger parish, still had struggles with the “community”. She returned, but oddly was taken into the group of gossips and judgmental individuals. I remember meeting with her and her complaining about some members of the parish and how they are affecting the community. We should not allow those type of people to be part of the Church! I explained how we are all sinners and all of us need the church. She didn’t want to hear anything, it was the image of the church we’re trying to protect. I was sad at how she was taken in by the group.

God decided to get her attention. Time went on, she fell in love married again outside of the faith, had another baby, that’s when she found out she had stage four ovarian cancer. Already abandoned by the “group”, she was also abandoned by her love, he left when he found out she was sick. Returning to the practice of her faith with renewed vigor. Authentic this time, but alone. The “group” didn’t really care, they would say things like “poor poor……she was such a good girl”. I went to visit her, she was telling me, no one comes to see me, no one asks how I am doing. My wife and I and our parish priest were the only ones who even reached out. Those members taught her a lesson about being a sinner. She died a faithful Catholic.

More Judgement….not a secret to a full church

An older gentleman, diagnosed with a degenerate disease, lived with another older man who “rumor” had it were gay. They came to my office and the gentleman wanted to become Catholic. They were scared of how it would be perceived. The Pastor called me into his office. He asked how I expected him to accept them into the Church in good conscience? It’s actually quite easy, I taught the faith. No punches thrown and I candy coat nothing. They know the Church’s views on homosexuality, on sex outside of marriage. My job was not to judge, if they were living together as husband and wife, if they were engaging in sexual acts.

I presented the faith, true and unaltered. I loved them, as they were. They became dear friends. To this day, I know nothing of their personal life. What I do know is they are the most faithful Catholic’s, tithing, classes and truly living outwards the Kingdom of God.

Our Job is to love them as they are

Did I agree with any of the situations above? Abortion, false belonging, homosexuality….. NO- But I am not here to judge. I loved every single one of those individuals and felt pain and sorry for their sins with them. Whatever struggles they might be going through, is not concern for me to look with judgement on them. We can disagree with the sin. But we need to rejoice they have come to the correct place for help!

I heard a story many years ago about a single mother who wanted so badly to get her life straight. She was a stripper at a local gentleman’s club. One morning after work she decided it was time to start attending Mass. She did not have “dress” clothes but wore the best she had and began going on Sunday mornings. After a few Sunday Masses, the ushers approached her and told her because of what she does for a living, she was not welcomed at the Church and they would not let her come in anymore. I wish I had a good outcome for this story, but unfortunately that is all I know about this young ladies story. The secret to a full church is to welcome everyone. Get them in the doors, the Lord welcomes them as they are.

Secret of a full church, includes parents

Parents don’t attend Mass, because they feel unwelcome by those in the Church their children are loud. Comments made, and looks exchanged. Divorced members are made to feel second class. Not by the Church proper, but by the members sitting in the pews. I addressed how to make parents feel welcome in: “Parenting Situations“. The whispers and gossip of the members keep those who truly want to go to Mass, to be present with God, who are seeking the path to holiness with their whole hearts, away by shaming them into leaving.

We need to remember the quote, “whoever here is without sin, let them cast the first stone.” Sinners are the secret to a full church, there are LOTS of them!

We are equal

All of us will be brought to the entrance of the church at the time of our death, our casket will be blessed and covered with the pall and our funeral will proceed as everyone else does.

The irony of this entire topic is, the judgmental gossip of those individuals damages the community in more ways than they realize. It is because of this that people don’t want to join the Church. They identify organized religion by the people who represent it.

Your holiness, is not defined by your social status. Catholic’s who have been treated as such, I am sorry. I am with you and I welcome you into the parish. To those who feel you are holy and can pass judgement on people, I pray for you, you are no better than the rest of us.

God welcomes you all, as you are, go to Him and enjoy the loving embrace of your Father, who loves you unconditionally.

Jesus surrounded himself with the sinners

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This mystery of what will help us fill our churches, it is pretty simple. Jesus’ group could be described as, well sinners. The Pharisees could not believe themselves. They constantly were scandalized by this behavior. Sinners belong in church. It is the purpose, to convert those who are fallen. Want to be like Jesus, welcome them in every single one of them. Let the Lord do the rest.

Is your parish welcoming? Do you do all in your power to make sure those around you are welcomed? Welcome them by reaching out, the good the bad and the sinful. This year, I challenge you to pick a pew in your parish, and pack it with new members! Welcome home those who were away, bring in new Catholics. See what YOU can do! That will show you know the secret to a fuller church.