“You can’t stay here,” the man said. “I’ve been coming to daily Mass every day for 22 years, so I need this space for my prayers.”
And, thus, he kicked my friend and my then-two-year-old daughter out of the cry room.
When I got back from the restroom, my friend told me, “I recognized the man as the same one who had spotted me wearing a veil and kneeling in prayer a few days before and handed me a paper saying I needed to amend my presumed sexual sins before I go to hell.”
Looking at the man, I started to cry. How could someone have received Jesus in the Eucharist every single day for 22-years — more than 8-thousand times — and quite possibly have never met Him? I have prayed a lot for that man, for his healing and his pain. I haven’t seen him in years, but I hope he found authentic joy.
The Church often prays for people who are un-catechized, unchurched or those who left the Church. It’s less likely that we would pray for the love, healing, and mercy of Jesus to affect and convert those inside the Church, even ones who go to daily Mass.
And yet, Jesus’ harshest words in scripture were not for those outside the Church. They were for the ones who were inside.
Lately, the Mass readings have pointed to the unbelief, pride, judgment, and stubbornness of some of the people who were regulars in the synagogues and in the Temple. They cause me to think about ugly situations like the above story that cause scandal for others. It makes me think of red tape and territorialism in ministry. It makes me think of my own struggles with spiritual pride.
What is the point where a Christian can judge or call other people names because they don’t operate exactly the way they do? What is the point where a Christian can feel assured he or she has conquered all sin and just needs to pray for those “other guys” who haven’t made it yet? What is the point where a Christian can say he or she has achieved union with God and is just coasting until the day he or she arrives in Heaven?
Never. At least, not on earth.
The older brother in the Prodigal Son story was just as lost as the brother who left. But it was worse because he didn’t know he was lost. About 10 years ago, the Lord opened my eyes to see how I needed conversion, even though I have always come to Mass every week – even through those college years when others often quit - and that even now, I still need conversion. God is infinite. You can never say you’ve mastered Him.
Jesus’ words are chilling: that there are people who outwardly have dedicated their lives to Him, but aren’t going to Heaven because they never dedicated their hearts. He says He’d rather have us cold as unbelievers than lukewarm: inside the church but closed up in pride. He said He came for people who are willing to admit they are sinners, not those sinners who have already proclaimed themselves as righteous. These are painful words that cause reflection for me, wondering about the hardened places of my heart.
Today, my prayer is for humility, healing, and conversion for those of us in the Church. There are many who are doing quite well. And there are some whom Jesus would say, “I never knew you.” These need our prayers just as much, if not more than the ones outside the Church.
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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’