Wednesday Witness: Belong. Believe. Behave.

This piece was published in the May 24 edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.  At the time, I thought it resonated with our typical approach to welcoming people into our church, but a week and a half later, I challenge myself and everyone else to read and reflect on it in light of the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath.

People need a place to belong. They want a reason to believe.

* * * * *

Two weekends ago, Fr. Richards preached a homily that has not left me. Over the years, he has talked often about the need for hospitality in our parish—and more recently, he has urged us to move beyond welcoming to actively inviting people into relationship: with ourselves, with Christ and with the Church.

This time Father presented a simple model of how to do this—or more precisely, how we often do it wrong. The model was summarized in three short words: Belong. Believe. Behave.

People are looking for a place to belong. We are made for love and community—without it, we can’t step forward in trust toward belief. And if someone does not believe—specifically, if someone does not believe in a God who loves us and has a plan for us—why would they ever behave? How can they receive a love they cannot see? Why would they follow a God they do not know?

Yet often, we flip the order: We expect that people should behave, in order to prove their belief, so that they can belong. We don’t want to do the work of evangelization. Instead we say, by word and deed, “If you can’t act right, go away and come back when you can.”

That was the approach of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. By contrast, He called sinners to Himself, led them to faith, and then said, “Go and sin no more.”

This resonated with me for two reasons. First, I know that I am put out, at times, by people who do not act the way I think they should—but I rarely try to engage them. For example, in all my years as a Knight of Columbus, I have never volunteered in the beer tent at Albertville Friendly City Days, because “that’s just not my thing.” The truth is, I don’t like to be around intoxicated people. Could I be a joyful presence, an example, a witness to them? Perhaps. But instead, I surround myself with like-minded people in whose company I feel affirmed and comfortable.

The second reason Father’s homily struck a chord makes the first even more convicting. When I rejoined the church a couple years after Jodi and I were married, I was deep in the throes of serious, habitual sin. I went to speak to our priest, unloading a host of questions and disagreements I had regarding Church teaching. He came to have a clear picture of my heart: a good one, but parched and shrouded in darkness. So he invited me to Confession, then and there. I was hesitant, but he persisted.

I shared more than a decade’s worth of sin as best I could with the conscience and understanding I had. From the list of sins I gave, I’m sure he could guess the others I hadn’t yet recognized—and I’m sure he knew it might be years before I amended my life entirely. But he didn’t demand that. Instead, he invited me back to Communion the next Sunday, and told me to question the Church from the inside, where I could receive God’s graces.

He told me where I belonged and invited me to belief. He knew that, in time, I would learn to behave. And he was right. Had he said, “Fix these things about yourself, then we’ll talk about your questions and maybe you can come back to the church,” I might have walked away and not look back. Instead, I found a home.

That’s our call. That’s how we make disciples of all nations. Belong. Believe. Behave. From here forward, may God help us to live it out.

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