When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to go on the annual fall retreat with InterVarsity, a campus Christian group at Univ. of Richmond.
It felt like a big risk, because I was still new to the group and I didn’t exactly feel “holy” or “knowledgable” enough to hang with all of the Jesus-people. And believe it or not, I was also just incredibly unsure of myself at that time of my life. I was very self-conscious of my personality, my appearance, my everything!
I felt awkward.
I felt like an outsider.
Everyone else seemed to know how to act, what to say, what to do. They were ‘good’ Christians… but me?
I didn’t belong…
I kept feeling this way the whole first half of this retreat. Then, during one of our free afternoons of reflection, I decided to launch out by myself with my Bible in hand to go and try to clear my head — So I got away from the crowd and I ventured out into the beautiful grounds surrounding the retreat center. I found a nice little spot on a wide, flat rock beside a babbling creek, and I soaked in all the gentle sounds of nature around me.
When I looked down at my Bible, the pages naturally fell right open to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians near the back of the book. And my eyes immediately fell on these words:
“Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If a foot should say,
“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,”
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
Or if an ear should say,
“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body, “
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God placed the parts,
each one of them, in the body as he intended.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
These words, which we just heard in our second reading, hit me like a ton of bricks. They were spoken directly to my soul! And I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Living God was sharing with me a core truth that I had forgotten… or maybe never really believed:
After reading those words, I understood that just because I was a little different, just because I wasn’t as athletic, or knowledgeable, or popular as everyone else seemed to be — just because my story was different — that did NOT make me any less a part of the Body.
I was NOT disqualified.
Paul’s words were so liberating and so comforting: “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you, “nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” — The Body of Christ somehow needed me!
Now as if that realization wasn’t enough, right then, a perfectly timed sycamore leaf fell from the tree above my head and landed RIGHT on the page of the Bible I had been reading. I took it as a sign. And I closed the leaf in my Bible, and I marched back into the retreat filled with courage and confidence.
Ever since, the Lord has been continuously teaching me more and more beautifully: I belong. Not because of anything I’ve done, or earned, or accomplished — but simply because the Lord is Good and He loves me. He has given me a unique place in the Body of Christ that nobody can replace and nobody can replicate.
I share this story because I sincerely hope all of you know that the same is absolutely true for you:
It’s also true of every single person on the planet. All of us together are invited to belong deeply, fundamentally, and perfectly to Christ. To belong sacramentally to His Body the Church. Nobody is excluded. Nobody is “unneeded.” Nobody is supposed to be left out…
Not a single person God has ever created is so weird, so awkward, so hopelessly stuck in sin, or so broken that they cannot be forgiven, healed, and then grafted onto Jesus.
This Church is open for EVERYONE.
I saw this conviction in action just the other day, when I had the chance to participate in the March for Life with tens of thousands of other people in Washington DC. The message that brought all of us there together was that same core truth:
Every single person, made in the image of God, deserves a chance at life!
Every life matters! Nobody is expendable.
Everyone is supposed to be included!
We must never forget that: That our faith is an all-inclusive faith, and that inclusivity begins from the moment of conception.
But here I’d like to push a little bit deeper. Because in our day and age, “inclusivity” is usually kept at a very superficial level, isn’t it? Too often, to be “inclusive” is reduced down to a kind of sentimental, relativistic, “hey let’s all get along” sort of attitude. We may even say things like I will respect “your truth” if you respect “my truth.” We love to be inclusive!
And yet one of the most common complaints against the Church today is that we aren’t “inclusive” enough. That’s what a lot of people out there say… That we are not inclusive.
But I have to wonder: What do people really mean when they say that we’re not inclusive? Are they saying that the Catholic Church should be open to and be inclusive of LIES, or CONTRADICTIONS, or FALSEHOODs, or DIVISION?
That would seem to be very counterproductive. Just ask St. Paul, who said in our reading that God “so constructed the body…that there may be no division — no division at all! — in the body.”
Division in the Body of Christ is tragic and it is scandalous.
And yet voices of dissent and division are getting louder and bolder…
Perhaps you heard about the incident this week during thew Vigil for Life at the Basilica in DC — where a small group of Catholics used a projector from the other side of the street to light up the side of the Basilica — the National Shrine — with Pro-Choice messages. One message declared:
“Pro-Choice Catholics: You are not alone.”
Let me ask you this: Do the people who pulled off this distasteful — and even diabolical prank — belong in the Body of Christ? Do they? Do they belong?
Yes or No?
In the deepest sense — YES. Absolutely YES the DO belong! We want those people to be here with us! We don’t want to exclude anybody! We don’t want to leave them alone outside in the dark!
They are included! They DO belong!
But then comes another important question… Do their ideas belong? Does the horrific belief — that a mother should have the option to legally kill her child — belong in the Catholic Church? Does THAt belong in the Body of Christ?
The answer is No. That doesn’t belong: It absolutely does not belong.
That belief and so many ideas like it are definitively “outside” — “external” — to the Church. They simply don’t belong. They are not in alignment with the Truth. They are in fact lies invented and spread by the Devil.
That’s something I learned after my experience on that retreat in the woods — I belonged in the Body, YES — But there were things about me that did not belong in the Body. And the good Lord has helped me, over time, to understand and repent.
In many ways, we all need to be more like those Israelites from our first reading, where every man, woman, and child old enough to understand listened attentively to the Law of God, wept openly for their sins, but then were encouraged by Ezra the priest to rejoice in the Lord.
The Church needs to be very clear about this call to repentance, even as we remain radically “inclusive” — as we warmly welcome ALL people in mercy through the tireless proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ!
Those who disagree with our beliefs need to be shown great compassion. They need to be shown love and patience, yes — but let it be absolutely clear:
The Mind of Christ is shut — it’s shut very tightly — on the question of whether or not abortion is ever moral — and all the other fiercely debated hot-button issues of our age as well.
Jesus, the all-inclusive Savior, is NOT the least bit confused about any of this stuff, and neither is His Church.
Why is that?
Well because we are convinced, as our Psalm put so beautifully today:
…That “the law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The commands actually refresh us! They don’t restrict us!
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy.
The command of the LORD is clear!
We know, as we sang over and over, that — “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”
So our moral theology, our doctrines, our theology, our liturgy — those things are good and true and beautiful — They have been revealed and given to us by God who offers every single person (without exclusion) the chance at salvation! No matter what anybody else might say, our teachings are not exclusive, bigoted, or judgmental in any way. They are pure, “clear teachings” available and accessible to all, life-giving to all, and we can be certain about that!
Because the other voices are getting louder. They’re getting bolder. We have to be certain that the teachings of our Lord are good and true.
At the beginning of our gospel passage this weekend, we heard St. Luke himself tell Theophilus why he wrote his gospel. And he says that he wrote this gospel — so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
The CERTAINTY of the teachings! The Greek word used here literally means ‘the asphalt’ of the teachings you have received.
The teachings of Sacred Scripture, the teachings of Holy Tradition, the Magisterium of the Church — They are rock solid. They are like a firm pavement we can all safely walk on together with confidence in our relationship with the Father.
So let’s not settle for that cheap “inclusivity” that our culture tries to offer us! We want everyone to BELONG to the LORD… because we do BELONG to Him in a deep and amazing way. We want real communion with the Lord and with one another — not a bland inclusivity that ignores or avoids the contradictions and lies.
Remember — the same Jesus who says “Come to me ALL of you” — including EVERYONE — also teaches: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” The same Jesus who says “I will not reject anyone who comes to me” also sternly warns: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
So — you belong. I belong. We all belong. We need each other.
But we must still repent, and respond in love.
Let’s spend the rest of our lives belonging to Jesus.