We yearn for you to be here with us. Once in a while we need to say so.
On Saturday, we went to the Easter Vigil not to our parish but to the one in which we entered the Church 16 years ago. The church is very ugly and the liturgy very suburban, and I went grudgingly. Our youngest wanted to go there, for reasons he couldn’t explain, so we went.
As the Mass began, I was still pondering what led the architects to design something so plain and yet so ugly, and why anyone paid to build it. As the pastor came down the aisle with the paschal candle, I remembered that first night, as I knelt with my family and our sponsors, up there in the front row on the left.
As I had that night, I started tearing up. I choked up completely during the litany, at the lines “All you holy men and women, pray for us.” That had been the point I really felt that I had entered the Church, because I knew I had made new friends of the saints. And then I teared up again at the end as we sang “Christ the Lord is risen today.” Then, I suddenly felt I could sing this in a new way, because I was singing it within the Church the risen Lord had created.
It had been a great night 16 years ago, and was a great night this year.
Come on in
That night and all the next day my Facebook feed offered news of people who had entered the Church at the Vigil or had sponsored loved ones and friends. A surprising number had entered, including some I had thought were Catholics from the way they wrote. Both, new Catholics and sponsors, wrote with abundant happiness, the way people speak of the birth of a new child, or grandchild, or godchild. This is perfect, this brings pure joy.
This raises something Catholics don’t often talk about, because bringing it up can end in tears, if not rage. Usually someone else’s rage, though maybe your tears too as well as his. Here is what we want to say to all our family and friends outside the Catholic Church:
We really do think we are where you belong. We have it as a gift, not because we’re better than you. But still, we know something you don’t yet see. We really think that being outside the Church, you’re not settled, or complete, or at home, and you won’t be till you too enter the Church. You may not see it, you may think you definitely belong somewhere else, but we think — we know — you’re wrong.
Catholic teaching tells us this, even as it recognizes the deep faith and admirable lives of those in other Christian bodies. The Catholic Church offers the Faith in its fullness, while the other bodies have some things but not others, and don’t have even what they have in the right balance and proportion. If you know Jesus as a Baptist or a Lutheran or a Presbyterian, you will know Him even better as a Catholic.
Many of you think this very wrong. You’d say the same thing back to us, and fair enough. But we really do think you belong with us, within the Church, and we yearn for you to enter. Once in a while we need to say so.
Our experience teaches us the special joys of living within the Catholic Church and that in turn makes us feel the absence and distance of those we care for who live outside her. This is where the action is, this is home, this is the ark, this is the hospital and the barracks both, this is where we find Jesus. We can point to all sorts of blessings that come with being in the Church and not outside her.
Yes, the Church fails as much as any body of fallen men and women will. We know this better than you. It is a leaky ark, with a fractious crew, sometimes ill-captained, but it is the ark, the thing that saves our lives. It’s the home God gave us.
That’s why the Facebook conversion stories even of people we don’t know please us. When we entered the Church, I was surprised at how many people I had thought nominally Catholic were so pleased that we’d join them, and how many then revealed a deeper faith that I’d seen. (That was a lesson in itself.) That’ gives away what Catholics really feel about our Church, not what we rarely say about her to you.
We want everyone we care for to share with us in the life of the Catholic Church. Now, divided as we are, our time with you is like a party in the community center. We want you in the family, gathering with us for dinner at home, knowing you can tease grandma and raid the refrigerator and take a nap on the couch.
Come on in. The next Easter Vigil is only a year away. Just a year of study and training and prayer, and you too can tear up at the litany.