On May 30 I had a phone call from Pennsylvania. The caller could not understand why the Catholic Church is so patient with sinners. He thinks people who don’t live their faith should be excommunicated. The same for those who don’t agree with all that the Church teaches—just “throw ’em out,” he said.
While his view may be shared by some, it doesn’t agree with Canon Law, which describes excommunication as a disciplinary measure reserved for some rather limited, serious offenses.
Even though the Church is striving to be perfect—to be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic—its membership includes wayward children who have fallen from the way of life demanded by Church teaching. That’s why we begin every Eucharist by calling to mind our sins and asking for the Lord’s mercy. That’s why we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and rejoice with Jesus the Good Shepherd whenever a stray sheep returns to the flock. Apparently my caller is not satisfied with anything less than a completely saintly church where all the members are kept on the straight and narrow by strict, punitive methods.
“Why is the Catholic Church so patient and tolerant of sinners?” my caller asked in a number of ways. I gave a direct answer and pointed to the words of Jesus: “I came to call sinners, not the righteous.” Not only that, I added, Jesus was known to associate with sinners (tax collectors, prostitutes, pagans).
As we talked on the phone, I glanced toward my bookshelves and spotted a book we published last year, entitled, Sinner, by Lino Rulli. The subtitle summarizes the chapters: “The Catholic Guy’s Funny, Feeble Attempts to be a Faithful Catholic.” Known as “The Catholic Guy,” Rulli hosts a three-hour daily radio show on SirusXM Radio. His book is a funny, yet serious reflection on his life as he’s tried to live as a Catholic. I strongly recommend it for all Catholics—both saints and sinners.
Face it. Like my caller, the Church is always tempted to be a church of the purified and intolerant. At the time of the apostles there were the Judaizers who insisted that all those who believed in Jesus were required to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. At the time of St. Augustine the Manichaeans believed that all creation was inherently sinful so that even marriage was wrong. There were the Albigensians and the Cathari of the Middle Ages, the various reformers of the sixteenth century and the periodic inquisitions that tried to stop heresy. All these movements wanted to keep folks on the straight and narrow. In more recent centuries, there are atheists, agnostics and secular humanists who react against any form of religious intolerance. Some atheists believe that religious dogmatism is the source of all violence.
True, there are many “former and inactive Catholics” who have just drifted from the Church. They may constitute the largest Christian population in this nation. My caller would like to see them excommunicated in punishment for their sins, in hope of saving them from the fires of hell.
I disagree. I think the Church exists not to punish, but to call the lost sheep back to the Lord. How do you feel and act toward lost sheep?
Photo credit: Dan/Photoxpress