Everyone thought he was such a nice guy. His wife and kids adored him. He worked hard to make a good living for them. The folks at his office thought he was a great boss and he made them all feel like family. He coached his son’s Little League team and was always busy with some community project or another. He was one of those men that other people looked to when something needed doing. He was admired and he was liked.
That’s the thing about sin. Most sins are known to God alone. Even the sins that eat us alive and destroy our joy. We know so many folks like the man I’ve described here. Good men, and good women, too. They look like they have it all together while inside they’re nothing but a dry husk. Sin has killed their heart.
The Bishops of the Catholic Church have been meeting in Rome for the last couple of weeks. They’ve been discussing families and how the Church needs to do more to support them in their vocation. Along the way, they also talked about homosexuality and whether or not divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Holy Communion. It got to be a bit of a mess. People, even bishops, leaked info to the press that wasn’t accurate. It caused regular folks to get wrong ideas about where the Church might be heading. People are really good at causing confusion. From the very earliest of Church Councils it seems we can make following Jesus a decidedly complicated and divisive journey. But Christ promised His Church that He would be with her always, even until the end of time (Matthew 28:2). And so, at the end of the bishop’s meeting, they said this: “Christ wanted His Church be a house with doors always open to welcome everyone.” And that’s how the Holy Spirit works to lead us through our confusion and our fears, to the truth of Christ and His open arms. The Spirit clarifies and unifies and gives us the courage and the peace we need to do His will.
So back to that likable, admirable, sinful man. He’s the one the Church is called to welcome in. The sinner who has lost his way. The sinner who has lost her way. The gossip. The adulterer. The tax cheat. The fornicator. The liar. The abortion survivor. The person with same-sex attraction. The one who harbors anger in their heart. The one who is addicted to porn. The cold-hearted, the greedy, the abuser, the slanderer. In short, every one of us. Every single, sinning one of us.
You see, we tend to get stuck on the sexual sins. When the bishops talked about homosexuals, suddenly that was all people could hear. Oh we’ll talk to our fellow prayer group members about our anger or our envy. We’ll ask for their prayers to overcome our food addiction or our shopping binges. But we won’t talk about our affair with a coworker, or the hours we spend watching internet porn, or that we struggle with same-sex attraction. We, as a Church, have to make everyone feel welcome, no matter the nature of the sin. Christ didn’t shy away from anyone. To the woman caught in adultery, He offered forgiveness and called her to leave her sinful ways behind her (John 8:1-11). He didn’t condemn the Samaritan woman at the well, either despite her serial marriages and affairs (John 4:1-30). Jesus was clear that sex outside of a valid marriage is sinful, but He always offers forgiveness and mercy to anyone who repents of their sin. His teachings on marriage and on sexuality are simple—but not easy. Being faithful to Christ is never easy. But He is the only Way.
This is what the Church must do. We have to be clear on what God teaches about marriage and sexuality. We have to welcome everyone who seeks forgiveness and repents of their sins. We have to show them by our example what mercy and forgiveness looks like. We have to be Christ to one another. And we have to remember that, no matter what, the Holy Spirit is in charge of things—both within our hearts and in the workings of the Church. We mustn’t forget that the Church is the Bride of Christ and her Spouse will never abandon her or allow her to go astray. We should never fear the workings of the Holy Spirit in our faith, but abandon our hearts to the will of God, Whose love goes before us always. The Church is in His holy Hands.
“Go, and sin no more.”