Recently, I was having breakfast with a friend of mine. In the midst of catching up about life, love, and everything in between, she mentioned that it’s been a while since she’s been to Mass. I was kind of surprised by this, as she was always super involved at church. She was the one who attended youth group every Sunday, signed up for every retreat, and proclaimed the readings at every teen Mass. She was the one who had a strong prayer life and steadfast belief in God. She was the one I turned to for inspiration when I felt less than committed to my faith.
When I asked her why she, the “model Catholic,” was now hesitant to attend Mass, she told me that she was asked by leaders at the church to consider attending a Mass other than the teen Mass, the Mass that she had been involved in and loved attending, the Mass that felt like home to her.
I was speechless. I couldn’t imagine why people who were lifted up as leaders at the church would ask another person who was dedicated to their faith to attend a different Mass, a Mass where she would not be recognized. Well, I suppose I could imagine why: the “model Catholic” was unmarried and pregnant.
“Your Sin is Too Great”
That reality overruled every other aspect of my friend’s life. She was no longer the devout Catholic, the gifted lector, the faithful believer. Instead, she was her sin, plain and simple. These people did not know her story or take the time to listen to her experience; they were simply concerned with how others would perceive an unmarried, pregnant woman at Mass. Just by looking at her, people deemed her unworthy of receiving God’s love and grace in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
But God was not the one to decide that this person was unworthy. God was not withholding Himself, His love and grace, from this person. People, who were just as imperfect as the one they were condemning, had made this decision on God’s behalf.
While I’d like to say that this was a one-time incident, that my friend is the only person I know who has been rejected by the very people who are supposed to model God’s love and mercy, this is not the case. Time and again I have encountered people who have had a similar experience. The sin differed, and sometimes it wasn’t even a sin that ignited the condemnation and rather a hasty judgment: their clothes weren’t suitable for Mass, their financial contribution wasn’t great enough, etc. Ultimately, they were told — through people’s words or actions — that they had done something to render themselves unworthy of God’s love.
God Doesn’t Withhold Love
The reality is that God does not withhold love, no sin is too great for God to forgive. In the Book of Romans, we hear that “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God did not wait for us to be free of sin or to be perfect. Instead, God sent His only Son to die on a cross for us while we were still sinners.
Oftentimes we forget this truth. We compare, we judge, we condemn. We fail to recognize the goodness in others, seeing them as an unworthy sinner rather than a child of God who is infinitely loved. Instead of opening our doors, we slam them shut, only allowing those we deem “good enough” to enter and excluding those who are most in need of love and mercy.
This is the antithesis of the Gospel.
Jesus Loved Sinners
All throughout the Gospel, we find stories of Jesus challenging the self-righteous and forgiving sinners. From tax collectors to adulterers to prostitutes, Jesus continually associated with those who were considered unworthy and advocated that they be treated with dignity and respect. Jesus is our example for how we are to treat others.
As human beings, we are not perfect and will never be perfect. No matter how hard we try, perfection is unattainable. Now, that doesn’t mean we should throw our morals out the window and live a life of sin — we should always strive to remain faithful to God’s commands and live holy lives — but we should not judge others for a sin we perceive in their lives, for we are not sinless ourselves (1 John 1:8).
Morton Kelsey once wrote, “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.” It is our job as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, to welcome all into the life of the Church, not simply those who are clearly on the path to sainthood. This does not mean that we condone sin; instead, we need to acknowledge that we are not the ones who determine who is worthy of God’s love. We are the ones who receive and then offer God’s love, “since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
The Church is a place where all can receive God’s love, mercy, and grace. It is a place where all people belong, despite our sins, our past, or even the present disposition of our hearts. The Church is meant for all because Christ died for all, redeemed all, and loves all. It’s time we make this a reality.
Photo by Anna Church on Unsplash.