Reflection & Dialogue: All welcome within the Church, but a wedding garment of grace called for.
The Church likes to portray herself as an open church, open to everyone, irrespective of race or social class, with compassion and understanding for the poor and the marginalized. This can even be proclaimed from the altar: all are welcome here. But in our own day, in the society in which we live and within the Church itself, there are individuals and groups who do not believe that they are welcome within the Church, such as the divorced and remarried who are barred from receiving Holy Communion, active homosexuals, those in gay unions or gay marriage, people involved in extra-marital sexual activity, advocating freedom of choice with regard to abortion, and others besides. Those who condemn or do not accept such persons are sometimes, if not often, accused of laying heavy burdens on them, and occasionally even compared to the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, of whom Christ said that they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
This question is being closely examined today by the Church authorities themselves. It is an old problem, going back probably to the days of the evangelist Matthew, and it is possible that today’s Gospel reading may give a better understanding of the problem. Everybody, sinners and others, are called by God to enter the Church, and the Church must be the messenger of God’s mercy for the entire world and for its own members. Christ invited all, weary and carrying heavy burdens, to come to him to find rest, saying that his yoke is easy and his burden light. We should also remember, however, that he also told disciples that if they wanted to be his followers that they should deny themselves, die to themselves, take up their cross and follow him. Central to the Christian message is that of dying and rising again with Christ, dying to an old way of life and living a new life in Christ.
To return to the questions under discussion: we may, indeed we must, say that the Church, that is all of us, must be understanding and compassionate, not putting on other people’s shoulders burdens hard or impossible to bear. But with regard to the questions currently being raised, the Church must examine closely whether all or some of them belong to what is regarded as the deposit of faith and morals, that is unalterable truths, or are just part of a way of life and belief that belong to past ages. Although there have been, there are, and there will be, sinners within the Church, all are constantly called by God to repent. The Church is a light for the world. The followers of Christ are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, through their good works. These are truths to be considered in the consideration of the questions now being raised and discussed.
The teaching of the Church, of the Gospel, must be looked on as Christ’s teaching. It is Christ who is speaking through his Church. Christ invites the weary to come to him and take a rest, today as he did while on earth. He would still say that his yoke is easy and his burden light. But Christ also said that his followers must die to themselves, take up their cross and follow him. Let us pray that the present questioning and discussions will issue in a better knowledge of Christ and his yoke and the burdens he asks believers to carry.