How are we doing?
I am very blessed to be part of a great Church community. It’s a eclectic mix of young and old, different ethnic backgrounds, single, married and families. We have great programs and a ton of ways to stay connected. Mass attendance is great (six every week). We are by no means super wealthy, but we have more than enough to support our parish and all of it’s programs. I’m not complaining, and we are very fortunate for GOD’s favor. However, when I was driving home after Mass tonight, a thought would not get out of my head. A memory, actually.
A while back, I went to Mass at a different church than ours, and it was pretty packed out, especially for summer months (between college students and “snowbirds” leaving, summers can be slow). I was sitting four or five rows back from the front, and the priest was just finishing the gospel. Right as he was about to dive into his homily, I heard one of the rear doors open, and in walked a man who was clearly homeless. If anyone reading this lives in Tucson, they have probably seen this man walking around the Campbell area. He carries dozens of plastic bags, filled with who only knows what. Covered head to toe in dirt and filth, he walked into the church and took a seat across the aisle from me, one row ahead. People moved to make room, some even moved to the back of the church and elected to stand rather than sit near to him. The priest continued on without even skipping a beat. However, it was clear that people were uncomfortable with him being there. He grunted and muttered to himself and rifled through his bags. His state of cleanliness clearly turned people off. Eventually, a gentleman who was a member at the church quietly spoke with him, gave him several dollars, and walked with him outside. The congregation breathed a small sigh collectively, feeling more comfortable now that the elephant in the room was dealt with, and Mass finished just fine.
I can understand why those people, heck, even I, acted that way. When we are not living in that lifestyle, we can’t possibly sympathize with what it must be like to live that way. And people are imperfect. The people there showed some charity, they were polite, as non-judgmental as they could be, and no one was hurtful. We all can work on our Christian charity.
Here’s my problem: Why aren’t there more people like him in my church? Why aren’t the halls of my church being darkened by people just like him? Shy of the geographic difficulties keeping them from our building (it’s pretty far north), nothing like that really happens at our church. I wish they would. I wish we had more of a chance to be exposed to and live in at least a modicum of solidarity. And thinking about all this really made me give pause to what a truly successful church is made up of. I came up with a few signs so that we would better know if what’s going on at our churches is working:
- You’ve become accustomed to the lingering smell of weed on people’s clothes
- The aroma of that last sip of booze from your neighbor’s lips before they came in keeps you in your seat
- Things may be getting stolen
- The collection plate is relatively low or empty, either from lack of funds or money being taken
- Handicap spots are occupied by shopping carts
- Can’t arm the building because someone is sleeping there
Would we be okay with someone we knew was a drug dealer sitting next to us at Mass? Would we look cross at a woman who we knew was a stripper who stood next to us in line for confession? If a junkie or a drunk came stumbling in, could we really love them the way they deserve to be loved?
From the outside, you would think that there’s a problem if these things are happening regularly. But to me, if they are happening, that means that the right people are in the building. While it’s clearly open to all of us, hopefully, we’ll see an increase in all types of people. Not just the ones that make us comfortable. So if we really want to know how we are doing as Christians, we just have to take a look at who is in our churches. See how many of them look just like us, act just like us, live just like us. If they match, then maybe we could do something more.