Everyone Is Welcome (There Are No Exceptions)

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

Everyone Is Welcome (There Are No Exceptions)

The Roman Catholic Church is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate. There are over 17,000 permanent deacons in the United States and over 42,000 worldwide. I have been proud to be one of them since my ordination in 1992.After marrying my sweetheart, Wanda, in 1968, one of my greatest blessings in life was finding and joining Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. At a time in 1984 when I was disheartened by events around the world, and even within the Catholic Church, I found this warm and inclusive parish.

Each Carmelite priest, Franciscan sister and Sister of Saint Joseph I’ve met here has been a living example of God’s love. And you, the members of our parish community, have consistently reflected the face of Christ.

Over the years there have been many special moments when I was filled with gratitude for being here at Mount Carmel. One of those was the moment I walked into the narthex, the vestibule – as we used to call it back in the Bronx, and read for the first time the plaque that holds our welcome statement:

No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’re from, no matter where you’re going, no matter how good or bad things seem, you are always welcome.”

The message on that wall is clear: We are all children of God; we are all brothers and sisters. Everyone is welcome. There are no exceptions. But sadly, not every Catholic has heard that message; not every Catholic has felt welcome in every Catholic Church. I have friends who are gay or lesbian, and friends who have children who are gay or lesbian or transgender who have felt unwelcome; who have been hurt; who have been made to feel unworthy of God’s love.

The idea that anyone is ‘unwelcome’ or ‘unworthy’ because of who they are, is contrary to the Jesus we know in the gospel. In his day the people of Samaria, the Samaritans, were despised and avoided as unclean by the majority of the Jewish people. Yet Jesus not only sits down and chats with a Samaritan woman, and reveals his divinity to her, but he makes the hero of one of his best-known parables a Samaritan. In another gospel, Jesus encounters a Roman centurion, a pagan, someone completely outside of his religion. Jesus speaks with him, heals his servant, and praises his faith. No strings, no conditions.

And how about Zaccheus, the despised tax collector who climbed out on a tree limb to see Jesus without being seen by the townspeople? Jesus not only recognized and acknowledged his goodness in front of those same townspeople, but he went to his home and broke bread with him. No strings, no conditions. So for Jesus, there is no “us” and no “them.” There is only “us”. The gratitude and pride I felt in reading that welcome plaque in our narthex has been intensified in recent years by the outreach and example of our Church leaders. Pope Francis and our local archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, are among many of our pastoral leaders welcoming, embracing and respecting all God’s children, whoever and wherever they may be. They have been reaching out with loving inclusiveness to our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. And they are role models for us to do likewise.

Here are some examples:

(from the New York Times 6/13/17)

On May 21 Cardinal Tobin personally welcomed over 100 gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics and their families, from the five dioceses of New Jersey and surrounding areas, to a pilgrimage Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral Basilica in Newark. They were seated on folding chairs in the sanctuary in front of the altar. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he told them. “I am your brother as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.” Bishop Manuel Cruz, rector of the cathedral, and eight priests concelebrated Mass. Bishop Cruz told the people that the cathedral doors were always open to them “because we are children of God and our identity is that we all belong to him.”

(from Time Magazine July 28, 2015)

In 2013, Pope Francis ushered in a new era of welcoming people who are gay when he asked these two rhetorical questions: “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” and “Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?”

(In 2016, Pope Francis wrote these words in his apostolic exhortation on family life, “Amoris Laetitia” – The Joy of Love)

“ We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination‘ is to be carefully avoided.“

(Father James Martin, editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, was appointed in 2017 by Pope Francis as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariate for Communications. In his 2016 book “Building A Bridge” Father Martin wrote)

“. . . respecting L.G.B.T. people means accepting them as beloved children of God. The church has a special call to proclaim God’s love for a people who are often made to feel like damaged goods, unworthy of ministry and even subhuman by their families, neighbors or religious leaders. The church is invited to both proclaim and demonstrate that L.G.B.T. people are beloved children of God.”

(Father Dan, writing in our parish bulletin, tells us that)

both Pope Francis and Cardinal Tobin have given very clear signals that reaching out to our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community is the next step we should be taking in the long and checkered history of our Catholic faith.” He reminds us that: “Our parish that proclaims as part of our identity and mission the statement that all are welcome here needs to continually demonstrate it.”

Some might argue that our Holy Father and our archbishop and other church leaders are too liberal; that they are moving too quickly, not focusing on or emphasizing the timeless and changeless rules and regulations of the Church. Others might say that these gestures are shallow, condescending and patronizing; too little, too late; that nothing has really changed in church doctrine; that the LGBT community is welcome only so far. So, what are we to say?

Sometimes throughout history, and even in our own lives, there is conflict, there is tension between who we are and the boundaries of society, and even our Church. But in the final analysis we are called to follow our conscience and to be true to who we are. Jesus taught us that to have eternal life we only have to do two things: love God with our whole heart and love others – all others – the same way. Everything else is passing. Life isn’t an either/or proposition; it’s a both/and reality. We are called to love and to live within the tension of the both/and as we, and the Church, move forward in time.

Parish outreach programs to the LGBT community vary but they have a common thread of welcome, support and the sharing of stories. As a parish family, let us continue to reach out and welcome all of God’s children without exception; let us continue to reflect the face of Christ; and let each of us be a living example of those words on the wall of the narthex:

No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’re from, no matter where you’re going, no matter how good or bad things seem, you are always welcome.”

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