One time in a homily, I remember the priest telling a joke about a newly arrived group that was going through heaven. The group visited various parts of heaven, but upon getting off the bus to walk through a neighborhood, the tour guide told the people to be quiet. When one person asked why silence was necessary, the guide explained that they were in the Catholic part of heaven, but the Catholics think they are the only ones here so be quiet so as not to disturb them.
Now of course if you have a theological discussion, on the one hand we believe that one religion is not the same as no religion or any other religion. The reality is we do in fact believe that God is Triune, Father, Son and Spirit, and we do believe that Jesus established one, holy, catholic apostolic Church. One, not many. This is why we evangelize, why the Church has missionary activity, why we have RCIA, and why we reserve Holy Communion for those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church.
So what of those who do not enter into the Catholic faith? The Second Vatican Council, in the document The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World writes: ”Since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.” Our catechism also states: “Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.” I truly believe that when we die, for those who may have had no opportunity to understand the Catholic faith, the truth of our faith will be revealed to them, and they will then have an opportunity to accept it fully.
This weekend, we celebrate Epiphany. It’s a big feast, one of the “Big 4” with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost being the others. Clues to it’s significance can be found when you look at the Magi in your nativity set. By the time of this publication, our figurines will have made the long journey from the ambo to the nativity itself. You’ll notice one of them is typically a person of color. We of course don’t know a ton about these wise men. It is pretty interesting though that the first people to recognize that the newborn Jesus was the king of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah, were Magi from the East. They were outsiders, followers of Zoroaster, who had arrived at Jerusalem by following a star.
This feast is a reminder to us that Jesus is truly for all people. The challenge for us is to make sure we never forget that.
It starts right in our own parishes and homes, making sure all people are truly welcome.
A story I once used at a daily Mass was of a new pastor. He transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – no one in the church gave him change.
He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ ‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.
Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ should be more than just talk. It ought to be a lifestyle that others around you can love about you and share in.” Be a Christian all you want, but at least follow the teachings of Christ if you’re going to claim the title.
There can always be a temptation, even if we don’t intend it, to look down on people who might not be as active in their faith, or to judge someone’s relationship with God by our perception of their “orthodoxy” or lack thereof. So we should do some self-evaluation from time to time, and ask ourselves how do we welcome people? How do we treat a parent with a fussy child at Mass? How do we treat visitors, especially on big feast days when the church is more crowded? Do we ever think of ourselves as “holier than thou?” Do we invite others to Mass? Do we exhibit patience with those who may not fully understand the faith as we do? Do we judge others in our hearts based on their clothing at Mass? This is not to say we can never judge – rather it means when we judge an action, we want to then try to help a person grow in their relationship with the Lord.
Pope Francis has used the image of the Church as a field hospital, a good image to have. So as we journey through life, may we one day not bring Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh, but rather be fishers of men who bring souls to God, remembering that evangelization entails not just catechesis and talking about Jesus, but revealing who Jesus is through how we love, and welcome, one another.