Monday, April 1, 2013

Here comes everybody: divorced, gays, sinners, a couple saints

It amazes me when basic church teaching is received as if it were something brand new. This morning's New York Times brought the latest example with the headline: "Dolan Says the Catholic Church Should Be More Welcoming to Gay People." A glance at other media outlets finds similar news accounts. From the NBC website: "Cardinal Dolan: Church Must Embrace Gays, Lesbians." Then from the NY Daily News: "'Jesus died on the cross for them as much as He did for me’: Cardinal Dolan says church should not push away gays."

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York created this media storm with basic pastoral comments on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" and CBS's "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer. Cardinal Dolan said the church is there for everyone.

I have two reactions.

1. The word "catholic" means all-encompassing, so how can people get the impression that the church is exclusionary? No one is carded at a Catholic Church. Shunning is not the Catholic tradition. Other news reports this week give homey examples of the church's inclusionary nature. Ann Rodgers, a reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was selected to carry olive branches in a Palm Sunday procession at the Vatican. Ann said she wasn't Catholic, but that wasn't a problem for organizers at the Holy See. A few days afterwards, a Muslim girl in a Rome youth detention facility had her feet washed by Pope Francis at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper. Her standing outside the fold was no problem for the papal advance men. To reiterate Cardinal Dolan's point: Gays ae welcome in the church. So are divorced people. Heck, even in the rare instances that people are excommunicated, they're still expected at Sunday Mass. Although some sects ban you from the property for violating their rules, the Catholic Church still wants you in the pew.

2. More people have been excommunicated by their Aunt Minnie than by the church. Much of the media, and many Catholics, miss the fact that the Catholic Church is a church of mercy and forgiveness, and most of all, communion. It is so encompassing that writer James Joyce defined Catholicsm as "here comes everybody." The church looks for ways to make things better for people. We have seven sacraments -- and three, Baptism, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Sick, are geared to bringing people into or back into the fold, sinner or no. It's pratically impossible to get out of the Catholic Church where if you leave we call you an ex-Catholic rather than a Protestant, atheist or the latest term, a "none" (the last in deference to pollsters who force you to check some box when asked about your religious practice).

Gay marriage is the issue de jour for media. So when Caridnal Dolan on Easter spoke kindly of the gays and lesbians, media feigned shock. In reality, the Catholic Church challenges all its members -- in different ways over different issues.

But know this: The Catholic Church will battle hard to maintain the sacredness of marriage as between a man and a woman. It also offers counseling to help people avoid divorce. It patiently insists that frenetic couples entering into marriage go through pre-marital counseling, no matter how busy they are with wedding planners and caterers. For the Catholic Church marriage is worth it all, even sadly, a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And know even more: God's love for his children is boundless. A disagreement on the definition of marriage is a serious disagreement. It is not, however, separation from the love of God.

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