Many years ago I was counseling a man who had stopped going to church. He said that he did not have to go to services to pray and that the churches were filled with hypocrites anyway. I admitted that there was some truth to his accusation; but I then asked him to honestly tell me whether or not he was really praying alone either. He paused. Hesitantly, he said, no. I then quite pointedly inquired about who he thought should go to church? He wondered what I meant. I responded that Christ came for sinners and that we have tried ever since to fill our churches with them, this priest included. The poor man began to see his own hypocrisy. The only difference between him and churchgoers was that we admitted we were sinners and therefore sought God’s forgiveness. Jesus spoke directly to this when he said, “The healthy do not need a doctor; sick people do. I have not come to invite the self-righteous to a change of heart, but sinners” (Luke 5:31-32). There is no shame in admitting that we are not perfect, only in trying to hide our frailties behind the lies of pride and deceit. I wish I could tell you that this revelation changed the life of this man. But, I have no inkling. He did not come back into the worship space where I presided. The blinders immediately came back down and he rationalized away everything I said. I pray for him, just as we all should. And yet, there is some sadness in knowing that when our family in faith comes together, he and so many others are not present. No one, anywhere, can ever take their place here and so we are the poorer. We desperately need the witness and solidarity of one another. With this in mind, I would sincerely encourage the constant support of one another, not with the badgering of a people who think they are better than others but with the example of a faith lived out both in our particular churches and in the world outside. The Pharisees and the scribes to whom Jesus spoke did not realize that they most of all needed Christ’s forgiveness and healing. Let it be a lesson about which we shall always be mindful.
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For more of Fr. Joe’s excellent writing, go to his blog at: http://bloggerpriest.com