I must admit, the Pope’s visit to the United States last week was awesome. Though I have been happy for the Roman Catholic Church since Pope Francis was elected, last week I realized his witness is good for all Christians. Too often people professing to be Christian make Christians look bad. Their hatred and exclusion in no way reflects the love and inclusion expressed by Jesus Christ. But not Pope Francis. He continues to challenge all of us to get back to the work Jesus gave us to do – to love and care for the poor, disenfranchised, and unjustly treated. He beckons us toward lives of making peace and justice. In essence, he reminds us to live as Christ called us to live. And in starkly obvious ways, he reminded us that Jesus was not a Democrat or a Republican. In fact, Jesus made, and continues to make, everyone uncomfortable. Pope Francis did the same thing. Though we all loved what he did for the Church and Christians in general last week, he likely made each of us feel uncomfortable at some point during his visit. But I think we could all respect that he was trying to get us back to our true identity – he is a Christian who made us proud, not embarrassed, to be Christians.
Coming off the high of the Pope’s visit, I attended a funeral mass this week at the local Roman Catholic Church. I was there to support a parishioner who had lost his mother (a Roman Catholic). I wore my collar, but sat in the pew. I prayed with the priest, cried with the family, and reverenced during the Eucharist. But when the Eucharist was distributed, I stayed in my seat. To his credit, the priest did not disinvite any non-RC attendees. But he did not actively invite them either. So instead of risking offense, I stayed in my seat, as I have been well-trained by many other RC priests that I am not to receive Eucharist as a non-RC. I knew the moment would come and I was mentally prepared to stay in that seat. But I must admit, my heart ached in that moment. I felt a sharp pain in my chest as others walked around me to go forward for the heavenly meal. For all the unity, the love, and the excitement of last week, I realized in that moment that we have a long way to go.
Of course, that work is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church. Last week I preached about how much the Episcopal Church does its own work of excluding people – even from the Table, if you are not baptized. In fact, I remember writing a paper in my liturgics class in seminary defending the practice of limiting the Eucharist to those who are baptized. I don’t remember my argument at the time, but it was good, well-thought out, and prayerfully constructed. But sitting in that pew yesterday, not receiving the comfort of the holy meal made me rethink the whole concept of an open table. I do not really know if I am ready to make any changes right away, but the experience was a powerful lesson in the realities of constructing boundaries around the Table. I do not want anyone’s heart to hurt the way mine did yesterday. What about you? What boundaries the church has constructed make you feel conflicted? What might compel you to reconsider your position? I invite us to pray about these conflicts as a community and see where the Spirit is leading.