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After a well-attended funeral or First Holy Communion celebration I often I hear the comment: ‘It’s a pity we won’t be seeing them at Mass on Sunday.’ Sometimes I am guilty of thinking that myself.
Are we incapable of welcoming people to church and unwilling to rejoice in their presence without condemning them? It’s as if the way they are isn’t good enough for God; that there’s a backlog of remedial work to be done before they are worthy to enter the Lord’s presence.
Is the Church afraid that if I fail to condemn, people will take advantage of God’s love? Does God need protecting from the consequences of his over-indulgent infatuation with his creatures? Does God sit back with arms folded waiting for us to grovel? No, God makes the first move. ‘The Lord takes delight in his people,’ says Psalm 149. God reaches out with open arms.
The priest is the custodian of the sacraments and while God is generous, the Church feels obliged to tone down God’s open invitation with hurdles to be jumped and hoops to be negotiated. And isn’t there an assumption that while I am in good standing with the Lord, infrequent Mass-goers are not? They are not in a state of grace, we have been taught. Who is? Grace, by definition, is free, unearned and unexpected. We begrudge the sinner God’s love and then wonder why people don’t feel welcome.
Nothing has changed. The Gospels relate instances where the religious and respectable condemn the outcasts and the sinners, and they condemn Jesus even more: ‘If this man were a prophet he would know who this woman is who is touching him and what a bad name she has’ (Luke: 7:39).