“We usually keep this one locked,” the friendly usher explained as he opened the little door. He smiled brightly and tried to usher us in.
It was Sunday Mass and we were, of course, outside the church. In our family, we don’t expect kids to make it through the entire service until they are at least four; and this particular kid is only two, and such a two year old. She wants to give glory to God by ripping up the paving stones out of the little Mary garden and throwing them over the railing, shouting, “BYE, ROCKS!”
To change things up last week, she circled around the other side of the church, and, before I could reach her in my Sunday heels, she started pounding on a little side door and rattling the handle. Thus the friendly man unlocking that mostly-unused door and trying to let us in.
The reason I’m telling you this is because the Francis Papacy has sparked many a fracas over who does and does not get to come in to the church, and how.
I find it hard to take it seriously when folks argue that we have to be very, very cautious and strict about whom we let in. If that were the case, 100% of us would be out of luck, disqualified, cast out to wail and gnash our teeth. It behooves us – those of us who consider ourselves solid Catholics with uncomplicated marital histories with a firm grasp of basic doctrine – to remember that we don’t have any right to be here. We didn’t earn it, and we certainly don’t deserve it. And yet here we are, every week or maybe even every day, eating God and fumbling our way toward eternal life. Non nobis, domine, non nobis. I know.
More to the point of this story: There are plenty of people who find themselves staggering up to a side door, rattling the knob and yelling to be let in to the Church, maybe without even realising that’s what they’re doing. What should we do when we, who are already on the inside, encounter someone like this?
We should always immediately do what the smiling man at our church did: Open the door. Right away, open the door, and maybe make an explanation about why they even had to knock and bang and wait for it to be unlocked.
Because there are many, many doors into the Universal Church.
There is, of course, the main entrance, which so many of us are lucky enough to have been ushered through as babies with baptism. We were catechised, maybe we went to religious education classes, maybe even Catholic school. Our parents taught us the Faith, and why it mattered. This is the big, huge, ornate, always-open front door that opens the clear and obvious route to Jesus inside.
But there are also side doors, small doors, doors that aren’t used much. There are adult converts with a lot of catching up to do. There are reverts with lingering issues. There are those who considered themselves Catholic all their lives, but who somehow only recently realised that their life doesn’t comport with their faith. There are non-Catholics married to Catholics, who are starting to realise that making a life together isn’t going to be so easy as just having a general intention to be tolerant. There are Catholics who love God and receive the sacraments but have major, sincere struggles with some aspect of doctrine. There are Catholics who understand the Church’s teaching on sexuality and are just having a really, really hard time living it. And there are those who aren’t letting themselves realise that they’re interested in the Church at all, but they can’t seem to keep themselves away from Catholics, from prayer, from religious imagery, from, well, God.
Folks like this knock on the side doors of the Church, by asking ignorant questions about the Faith, or by starting conversations that annoy or disturb us, or by arguing and criticising the Faith. They rattle and bang on the side door, even though the front door is open. What should we do?
Let them in. Or at least let you know you’d like to let them in. Be as welcoming as you can. No scoffing at people with sincere questions; no ousting of people who aren’t up to speed; no shaming of people who are just starting out. No doors that will always be locked. Some people are just there to make trouble and throw rocks; but some people are actually interested in coming inside, even if their manner is off-putting.
This was the approach the smiling man took when we tried to welcome us in. What he didn’t know was that we already knew the protocol. We already knew that the side door was not the right way to get inside, and we weren’t actually trying to get in. And this is the other thing that we must keep in mind – we baptised, settled, catechised Catholics for life:
Once we’re on the inside? We can’t let ourselves go sneaking around the side doors anymore. If we’ve had the benefit of a good education, and we’re truly convinced of the efficacy of the sacraments, and we really do understand that the Church has the authority to tell us what to do and how, and we’ve received and continue to receive the gift of Faith, then it’s time to nut up.
You want in? Use that big old front door. Go to confession, and do a really thorough examination of conscience. Follow all the commandments, not just the easy ones. Pray like an adult. Actively pursue the virtues. Make sacrifices. No more drifting. No more wasting time. No more acting like you just can’t figure out how to find Jesus. He will let you in a side door, but why would you do it that way? You want Him? You know where the big door is. It’s already open.
Photos used under licence cc 2.0