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COMING TOGETHER
Francisco Cervantes
CatholicView Priest Staff



"Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters."
 - 1 Peter 2:17

Have you ever felt left out at church or not part of the "in crowd?"

It seems that the gigantic and systemic problem of excluding or being unfriendly to others has always existed in the Church as well as in biblical scriptures.  Every Christian denomination has people who attend religious services but do not feel included as fellow sisters and brothers in the house of the Lord.  There seems to be no sense of belonging.  Sometimes it is forgotten that it is a serious sin to measure others as beneath us and some do not realize that the message of indifference given can make others feel unworthy in God's holy church, and especially so when done by clergy.

As a pastor of a very large parish with 5,000 registered families (around a congregation of 15,000 people), I, too have been accused of being distant or playing favorites.  There was always someone who was angry with me and someone who was happy with me at various times.  I did not consciously do things to alienate people, but there was always someone who felt alienated from me, and therefore, they felt alienated from the church community.  Sadly, none of us are perfect.  We are all sinners, and though we do not realize it, we all play favorites without meaning to.  We get so wrapped up in our personal and selfish needs that we do not see the effects of our actions on those who are not included in our world.  That is the reality of the human, sinful condition.  Those of us who recognize this behavior wish it wasn't that way.  And it seems that the bigger the congregation, the more people feel left out and do not feel welcome or part of the church family.

 

I have heard this concern from clergy and leaders of all denominations and religions.  There seems to be no common answer other than Jesus is the reason for our coming together as a congregation.  If we remember and keep this in mind, we would be more loving and more inclined to make all people comfortable as intricate parts of our Christianity as Jesus taught us.  We are taught to love our neighbors as ourselves and this is a vital part of our belief in Jesus Christ.   Mark 12:31 tells us:  "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.


I am reminded of Saint Paul's continuing New Testament fight against cliques and favoritism in his letters.  He wrote constantly about this problem, and it seemed that even he couldn't solve it.  People tend to form cliques as a security blanket against a world that threatens them.  Others form groups that exclude because of the work that they do.  Many form these exclusive groups without consciously knowing that they do according to their emotional "needs."   Saint Paul writes about this in I Corinthians, Chapter 1, Verses 11-17:  "For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you.  I mean that each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Kephas," or "I belong to Christ."  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  Saint Paul constantly wrote about this in all his letters in the New Testament.  This is a systemic problem because these divisions and favoritism comes from sin itself, and we are all stuck in sin on some level.  In spite of the divisions we all have experienced, we must still offer ourselves to others in Christian spirit and friendship by extending a hand in greeting.  Our Heavenly Father Who sees all will reward us for our perseverance in His work.

I
cannot speak for your parishioners and priests and how you perceive them in their relationship to you.  I can only speak to my own experience as a priest.  It is difficult to relate to each of my parishioners with the same equal energy.  Some people in my parish are so positive and loving that I want to stay with them.  Some people are so negative and draining of my energy that I tend to stay away from them.  Some people always have something good to say and that makes my heart soar.  Others always say bad things to me and that makes my heart sink.  There are people who project their own emotional needs on me, needs that I cannot fulfill.  And when I cannot fulfill their emotional and psychological needs, then I get blasted down.  Dealing with people's expectations of me is a daunting task.  Many of those expectations are truly unfair and untenable. The 15,000 people that I serve, there are 15,000 different attitudes and ways of relating to them.  Yet, I must stay focused on my mission on preaching the Word of God, leading the people of God around the altar of the Lord towards salvation, offering them the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ Himself.   Saint Paul's words in Romans, Chapter 2, Verse 11, are always in my mind: 
"There is no partiality with God."  But I am painfully aware that I am not God, but just a human being trying to stay on the road to salvation.   With that in mind, you and I are on that same road, and we all have to take our punches.  As one very wise priest (who was a boxer before he became a priest) said to me, "It's not the punch that counts, it's how you take the punch."  I ask that you look carefully in your heart and see how you react the way to your parish priests, what you are projecting to them, and the expectations that you have of them that may appear unfair.  How do you react to the "punches" of life when these hits are directed to you?

Part
of my Christian faith is hope.  I know that one day when Christ returns at the end of time to judge the living and dead, those who have ignored their fellow Christians will hang their heads in shame for the souls they have unthinkingly caused to leave the church because of the lack of true Christian behavior.   I am also reminded of Romans 13: 8:
"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" and Matthew 7:12 In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

There
are countless references to how we must treat our neighbors in the bible.  How much more should we treat our fellow church members and our clergy?

If you have felt unwelcome at your parish church, please forgive and pray for those who have offended you and have brought you pain.  Our Father, Who sees all, will give you solace and comfort.  Keep praying that one day they will realize their actions and welcome you with love into God's Church family. 

 

 

"Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other.
Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted,
and keep a humble attitude."
  - 1 Peter 3:8
   
 


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