Dear Tiber Swim Club 2013,
I went to your homecoming party a couple of weeks ago but I haven’t had a chance yet to tell you personally–welcome home!1 All these years we’ve been missing you and now that you’re home, I hope you know how terribly glad we are to have you.
Welcome to the Church of Chesterton and Pascal and Galileo and Aquinas, to the Church of Michelangelo and Fra Angelico, Beethoven and Palestrina. Welcome, more’s the pity, to the Church of Borgias and Medicis, of terrible sinners and run-of-the-mill sinners and all sinners who want in. As you might have noticed, we’re not terribly picky. Geniuses, fools, Saints, and sinners–we’ve got an open door policy.
Welcome to the Church of the Apostles, to truth unchanged for millennia. Welcome to faith and works, Scripture and Tradition, philosophy and theology. This Church of yours is nothing if not logical–if you don’t see the logic, push and question and read until you do. Whatever the issue, I promise this Church makes sense.
Welcome to the intimacy of receiving him who made you into your very flesh. Welcome to the humility of being given power over the all-powerful. Welcome to a world where receiving God is so commonplace that you manage to be distracted. Right now, I hope that each time you receive communion, it’s powerful beyond belief. But there will come a time when you get used to it, when you somehow miss the consecration and walk up to receive without once addressing God. Praise the Lord for that, too, for a relationship so comfortable that you forget how incredible it is. And then remind yourself what your first time felt like and praise God for that passion as well.
Welcome to liturgy that truly is “the work of the people.” Welcome to Masses that thrill and move you. Welcome to Masses that bore and infuriate you. Welcome to bad music and bad preaching and some seriously weird stuff where all should be worship. For many of you, it won’t be long before you miss the Charismatic prayer or melodious praise or majestic liturgy of your Protestant past. But…the Eucharist. And that is enough.
I imagine you’re no stranger to falling and getting back up again and again. But welcome to that famous Catholic guilt that drives you to your knees at the foot of the Cross. Welcome to demanding rules that seem impossible, illogical, even arbitrary. Welcome to the terror of waiting in line to kneel before a stranger–or, worse, a friend–and tell him all your most shameful deeds. Welcome to the exultant joy of hearing the words “I absolve you” and knowing–knowing–that your sins are gone. Welcome to a peaceful life governed by those rules that suddenly seem to make so much sense.
Welcome to the arms of your Blessed Mother. Welcome to a family of Saints. Welcome to the greatest charitable organization in this world, to a Church that requires that we serve and puts her money where her mouth is. Your Fathers are glad to work beside you. Your Sisters are leading the way. Your Brothers are bathing lepers and building houses and nursing orphans and hoping that you’ll join them. Amid scandals and accusations and seeming futility, hold your head up, friend–your Church is a force for good throughout this world, physically as well as spiritually.
Welcome to the awkwardness of swimming against the tide. Whether news of your conversion prompted fury or just raised eyebrows, you’ve probably dealt with some of this already. It’s that subtle persecution mostly, that assumption that you’re a little stupid or a lot closed-minded. Welcome to being the face of the Church in any gathering, to being expected to have all the answers even when your audience assumes there aren’t any. You won’t get much credit for being a good person–it’s expected, after all–but you will get a lot of flack every time you fall. So try not to fall, but know that in a Church like this, your sins won’t be terribly impressive nor will your failure weaken the truth you’re trying to live for.
Whether you’ve been wandering this way for decades or got knocked off your horse six months ago, welcome home! Whether you were a PK or an addict (or both), an atheist or a Buddhist or disinterested, whether you hated the Church or ignored it or always loved it somewhere down deep, welcome! Whether you’ve suffered serious persecution on your way to Rome or you’ve been encouraged by everyone you meet, you have a family here.
We’re not exactly on top of things in this Church of yours–we’re a lot dysfunctional and sometimes hypocritical and we don’t seem to be on the same page about much of anything. But we’re trying. And when you find yourself at Mass between a little old lady who says the old responses loudly and a teenager who says nothing at all with a fussy baby behind you, remember that our God isn’t particular about who he lets in to this hodgepodge Church of his. And praise him once again that he wasn’t too picky to call you.
Welcome home, my brother, my sister. We are so, so glad to have you.
- But I know you forgive me because while we’re out of the liturgical time warp and it’s not Easter Sunday any more, it is still the Easter season, which has to count for something. [↩]