Tonight, I spoke at the end of mass. After communion and before the final blessing, I got up and walked around. I walked out to be close to the people.
I told them, “As mass was beginning I counted 37 people in church.” I said it reminded me of the story from the book of Genesis… God decides to destroy the city because there remained so few good people. Abraham pleads with God, “God, will you relent if I can find 50 good people?” God agrees. Then Abraham asks if God will relent if only 40 good people can be found… You know the story. Then 30, then 20, then 10. In the end, God agrees to relent if 10 good people can be found. Raising my arms in mock evangelical pride, I hollered out, “Thank you Jesus! We have 37 people! We Are Saved!… for now!
Continuing, I reminded the people that in my homily last week, I had asked, “Are there people who don’t come here because of things priests and bishops have done? Do people stay away because catholic teachings about gay and lesbian and transgender people makes many feel unwelcome? (are we OK with that?). And those rigid catholic rules– what about things like birth control, or divorce and remarriage? Also, has a guest who is not catholic felt excluded because someone in the catholic church told them: you cannot receive Eucharist! The body of Christ! Who came up with that? How could we ever deny “communion” to anyone?
How many people have walked away (or stay away) because what we do here just isn’t relevant to them? The repetitious words in mass that sound “churchy and preachy“ but just run hollow and empty. The scriptures we use– stories that are so removed from our real life context, from the situations that shape who we are and how we live. The boring medieval rituals that seem meaningless, that have no spark, that trigger no authentic response. They do not “lift up one’s heart” or build community.
As I spoke, in the midst of all my words… my pleading, apologizing, confessing, imploring words, I said, “I don’t care about being saved. (Turning aside with a big smile, I added, “Please don’t write that on Facebook!”). People laughed. After a long silence, I said, “I want to be loved… and I want to learn how to love others. More than anything, I believe that’s what Jesus is supposed to mean in our hearts… and we, and others, should see Jesus in the way we live…. in the way we care for… everybody!”
After mass, many people stopped to talk. They spoke about many things. Sadly, no one mentioned what I had hoped to hear. Of everything I shared with those good people at mass, the most heartfelt words, the truly intimate disclosure came with, “I want to be loved. And I want to learn how to love others.”
The catholic church has been through so much. Everything has changed. It’s overwhelming to think about what people have experienced.
I suppose we still have a long way to go before we’ll be ready to deal with love.