Thinking Anew – We need to feel wanted and respected

People must feel at home and loved in their church

Under the initiative of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church is in the process of talking and discussing about how it can further the Word of God in the world. Photograph: Claudio Peri/EPA

There is a comforting and underlying theme running through tomorrow’s liturgy.

The opening antiphon introduces us to the idea that the Lord is our protector, who saves and frees us, indeed, even delights us.

The author of the book of Ecclesiasticus talks about how an orchard is judged by the quality of its fruit. St Luke in the Gospel advises us to be sparing in our criticism of one another and uses that often quoted text: “Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6: 42). And Luke too paints the picture of how the good tree produces good fruit.

It is such a cherished and wonderful gift to be able to be ourselves, to be open and honest with another person. Where and when it happens we can easily take it for granted but that is never to take away from the extraordinary privilege it is to be completely open with another person. It is something that happens in all sorts of relationships. It is probably at its most fundamental and strongest in the relationship between child and parents. There are no ifs and buts, it is total commitment, total loyalty, total openness. And when it doesn’t work it can lead to turmoil and disaster.

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But at some level we all expect to be nourished and nurtured, in other words most of us want to be accepted and respected by other people. And that means in our homes, our places of work, our societies. When people feel alienated and outcast they can be ever so easily driven to paths of destruction and violence. Just scratch the surface of anyone who behaves badly or in a manner that is unhealthy for them and society, you will quickly find a story of alienation, someone who feels unwanted and never respected. It never pays to hurt other people. That hurt will cause a ripple effect somehow or someway in a time and a place that may never make sense or cause suspicion to the casual onlooker.

St Luke admonishes the hypocrite. Admittedly, hypocrites stretch the patience of the best of people. From my experience in the classroom young people have a refined sense of spotting hypocrites and then despising what they do. The oxygen that gives life to the hypocrite is a place where she or he feels they have to behave in such a way so as to deceive or fool someone. And that behaviour is anathema to an open and loving environment. It’s important to add, most of us find it far easier to see the hypocrite in the other person than in spotting our own hypocrisy.

At present, under the initiative of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church is in the process of talking and discussing about how it can further the Word of God in the world, in the place where it is right now. It's being called a synod and unlike previous synods, it is hoped that Catholics of all rank and stature can have their say, that their voice will be heard.

Pope Francis’s personality is written all over it, the pope, who on the evening of his election, finished his address to the people in St Peter’s Square with those two simple words “Buona sera”. Those two words touched the hearts of millions of people that night. It heralded a break from a formalism that seems at times to strangle the church. It sounded so far removed from doctrine, and canon law, from prince bishops, their titles and palaces. It spoke directly to people of good will, who want to feel at home and loved in their church.

At present Christian churches are in the strangest of places. There are myriad problems. But isn’t it staring us in the face that we will get nowhere unless we feel at home and wanted in our church and for that to happen, leadership needs the wit, God’s grace and the simple common sense to guide and nurture people in such a way that we will feel wanted and respected. Nothing less is going to work. All the palaver, all the words, all the structures, all the committees will head towards a dead-end unless there is genuine respect and honest concern for the other person.

Isn’t that what tomorrow’s liturgy is all about?