Are There Outcasts in Your Parish Family?

Last week during one of his many appearances, Pope Francis confirmed something I have been thinking for some time now.
It’s not God or “the rules” that drive people away from the Catholic Church, or any other Church for that matter. It’s other people.
I believe the catch phrase that made it to the press was something like …If that’s being a Christian, I think I’ll be an Atheist.” But what he was really saying was people leave the Church, withhold their time and money, and don’t engage because many Churches are not exactly “welcoming.”
Church communities have a way of brining together many different types of people – no doubt part of God’s plan to build friendship and peace between those who love Him. But anyone who has ever belonged to a Catholic parish knows there is a hierarchy of sorts that develops. And it influences everything – and I mean everything – that happens therein.
In some cases, the hierarchy is developed based on who has personal wealth, or perhaps who gives the largest donations. In some, it’s about the Church or school staff, or what families have been parishioners the longest, or who knows the most dirt on the rest of the flock.
Whatever it may be, it slowly creates fissures in the rock foundation, like water that freezes on a highway in the winter. It’s these perceived hierarchies – and the behavior of those who occupy them – that stop people from volunteering, cause people to move their children to public school, stop them from attending Mass, and eventually may chase them from the Church all together.
Those who would be guilty may not realize what they do. They’re just doing things like they’ve always done them. Others most certainly do know that they divide. Those are the ones who like to “discuss” the lives of the people who attend their church.
Either way, the stories are similar. Those who want to volunteer often hear “Thanks so much, but Mary Sue has always done that for us…..” Or “well there’s a meeting you can come to next week, but we already have a committee for that…” Or a host of other “unwelcoming” answers that ring “thanks but no thanks.” Those who voice concern about an issue or challenge a long-term way of doing something, reinforce that institutional belief of how “outsiders just don’t understand our parish.”
That “welcome” that our LGBT friends think exists for the rest of us in Catholic parishes really almost never exists for anyone. There are overtures, sure. Nice dinners for new families each year, welcome notices in the bulletin. But as the days wear on, it becomes clear. Your children may have events happening in the school that you have volunteered to help with, but you never receive a call because the committee chair “doesn’t know you” or “lost your e-mail.” Others offer assistance, are never called upon, and then are frustrated to hear “No one ever volunteers. It’s always the same group of us.” People may do a job and do it well, but are pushed aside because someone else wants to shovel business to a friend. Or “we already have too many lectors, or Eucharistic ministers, or cantors, or ushers, or fill in the blank…”
In the scheme of things, this is all common pushing and shoving that happens in any organization. But in a parish, the little things really do count. They go a long way in making people feel either disenfranchised or welcome in God’s family. Think about your own family. It’s the small insults, the every-day bickering and disagreements that really wear us all down.
Parishes are families. It’s our ability to welcome and work even with the people we’d rather not that truly serves God. And just like some of our holiday family gatherings, accepting everyone can be really hard. Stop and reflect. How do you see and treat the people in your parish family? In not paying more mind to the way we respond to one another in our parishes, we tell people we are less of Christians than we think we are. In that vein, perhaps as Pope Francis says, we are no better than those who do not accept the Lord at all.

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