Seeking Authentic Inclusion

Recently, I was meeting with a group of predominantly lay Catholics in leadership. I brought up the fact that since we welcomed persons of other faiths might we be a little more inclusive? For instance, did we need to make the sign of the cross (which is almost an exclusive Roman Catholic sign) with each prayer we said? The answer was swift and painful: “We’re mostly Catholic and this is a Catholic place, so we don’t have to do anything differently.” I left that meeting sad. I’m still sad and I’m evaluating whether I need to be in that group.

Working with teenagers this year who are from a variety of Christian traditions, I found some were willing to risk being honest with me. They gave me some new learning and so much to think about.

Without judgment, please read these thoughts which are theirs. They truly are seekers. Do we have the courage and affection to listen to questions about loving and sacramental exclusion and who can and cannot be ministers? Using “non-Catholic” as a way to refer to other Christians is arrogant and exclusive. Other Christians have names. I was asked how a Catholic would feel if they were referred to as a “non-Lutheran.”

The first issue was marginalization. The questions were many, but the main one was, “Didn’t we learn that Jesus taught love, inclusion and compassion for all?” Another young person, “The church is so political and if we live and love differently where do we fit, or do we fit?” The saying “love the person, hate the sin” is so wrong. Don’t people understand by saying something like that they are mouthing a cliché and just covering for their own judgment?

“The church doesn’t have anything for me. Our church has a big sign outside: ‘ALL ARE WELCOME.’ Go inside and you find it’s really ‘All are welcome who believe exactly as we do.’” The issue of Communion was not far behind. This from a college sophomore at a Catholic college: “So we welcome everyone and then tell them they can’t eat at our table! That leaves my dad out.”

I find these young persons incredibly insightful, but they are disillusioned by what the church has become. They are experimenting with Eastern religions and practices where acceptance does not mean conformity. A few shared that they had their own Communion because Jesus said, “Where two or more…”

These kids are not rejecting Jesus. They are looking for Jesus in homeless shelters, in nature, in others who help them accept one another in truth. The kids are looking for an authentic spiritual experience, where what is said on Sunday actually happens on Monday, where the “namaste” can be said to everyone. “The Divine in me recognizes the Divine in you.”

Pat Pickett, OblSB

Photo: 3G Camp participants sitting on the dock of a lake.