I was biking past church back when I lived in Los Angeles. I decided to stop in to the adoration chapel near my house for a brief moment. As I was entering into prayer, a woman leaned over and whispered to me...How dare you wear something so inappropriate in front of our Lord.
I was in long Bermuda shorts and a shirt, biking home from running errands. This woman proceeded to reprimand me for about 2 minutes, pointing vigorously at her prayer book in the book of Lamentations about how the Lord laments over my lack of respect for Him and for the world’s lack of respect for Him, before I told her we needed to take this outside.
We stepped outside. This woman, who was probably no more than 50, went on and on about my lack of decency. After politely listening for a while, I flatly told her that behavior like this is exactly what drives young people away from the Church. I asked her…if I was a 17-year-old girl (which people often think I am) who stopped by this adoration chapel for the first time in a long time or just to check it out, do you think I would ever, ever come back?
Of course I wouldn’t.
Scolding like this…judgment like this…not allowing people to come as they are to meet Christ…this drives people away from our Church. I personally was not upset, but completely annoyed, by this woman's actions. I am frustrated much of the time about the Church that I know versus the Church that many people have encountered - because these kind of actions do have the power to deeply upset people. I love my faith, but I do not love that commentary like this woman’s and experiences like this have driven many away, including people I hold very dear, from the Church.
When we look at the person of Christ in the Gospels, while he lived on the same planet you and I are living on right now, he loved people right where they were. He met them where they were, he loved them in the middle of all that was transpiring in their lives. It is an unwavering truth about who Christ was as a person. He was never judgmental, condescending, or prideful. He never scolded people who came to Him in need - think of the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the sinful woman, the tax collectors. He did not hand out textbooks to teach people the right way to live…he told stories, parables. His first business was the business of love. He approached people with love and let that love lead the way into deeper conversation. Teaching about His way, teaching about the Cross we must pick up as we follow Him, often came later.
But sadly, when it comes to the business of love, many people in our Church have lost their way. I watch prideful humanity displayed all too often while people in our churches scold and judge and turn their noses up to people who need to be met with love and warmth rather than hostility and rules. I watch people judge before they even stop to hear a whole story…the woman chastising me did not bother to ask why I was wearing what I was, or I would have been able to tell her that I was riding my bike to the bank and stopped in to say hello to my friend, Jesus. We scold and we scorn before we even make an attempt to know a person or hear about what is really transpiring in their life. Hostility and rules are not what Christ taught…it is a tragedy for anyone in our Church to reflect to people that it was.
I have been guilty of disregarding the plank in my own eye. I have not lived a judgment-free life, and it is something I continually and intentionally root out of my own life. But I believe very deeply in letting people come as they are to meet God. Do I think that Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world, should be respected and honored in every way, even in my dress? Absolutely. Do I think that the teachings of the Church are difficult to come to terms with so we should just let people off the hook for not adhering to them? No. Do I think our global Church can strive to do much better in giving people freedom to come to Christ as they are? Beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The world is broken beyond what seems repairable and the answer is Christ. Our starving society needs real bread and our churches and chapels house the Bread of Life. When we judge others - when we question their motives - when we scold them for the ways they approach the Lord - they leave. They walk away from the bread that sustains. And often times, they blame God. They blame God because people who say they love God and love the Church treat them in judgmental and condescending ways, so that must be the kind of God they follow. How can I blame them for believing this?
If you have been scolded, judged, or had an encounter with a human or countless encounters with many humans that made you leave the Church, I both understand and am sorry. I am sorry about the ways that frail humanity has driven so many away from the Eucharist because the God who gave us the Eucharist is Love Himself. He loves you still. He meets you where you are. Whatever it is that you have done in your life - there is room yet in his heart to forgive it and shower you with His peace.
You do not have to have it all together, you don’t have to be perfect in any way. You can be as messy as they come. God the Father still wants you with Him. He is compassionate and loving beyond what we will ever comprehend. In all your sin, in all your shame, with all your questions, in your Bermuda shorts and brokenness…the Lord still and always wants you Home.
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11 : 28