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home : bishop : columns

10/6/2016 9:00:00 AM
The love that welcomes and saves

It is well recognized -- our experience confirms it -- that the nurse or doctor with the better bedside manner is all the more likely to find both patient and family responsive. That is why successful professional people almost always cultivate a welcoming, affirming demeanor in their practice.

People like to be treated with kindness and acceptance, no matter who they are or in what condition they are living. A person riddled with a debilitating or disfiguring disease does not feel any less worthy of attention and affection than anyone else.

In much the same way, a welcoming Church reaches out to all and extends a compassionate arm to embrace even the most persistent sinner. Jesus, after all, came to save us all.

Church communities seeking to both comfort their loyal people and attract new members generally recognize that old-fashioned "fire-and-brimstone" sermons are not so effective these days. People seek pastors who feel their pain and are close to their struggles.

In so doing, they are following the example of Jesus, who came to call not the righteous, but sinners, always showing compassion toward those suffering any kind of hardship -- spiritual, emotional or physical.

Besides being a Church that is approachable, people also want to be fed by us. Homilies that strain merely to entertain but cringe away from offering the solid food of the Gospel do not satisfy spiritual hungers and sooner or later become insipid - the "Church of nothing."

In approaching sinners with warmth and mercy, Jesus never failed to call out and condemn the sin for what it was, so He could heal the sinner and not just leave the person there as if everything were like, "I'm OK; you're OK." Recall the beautiful story of His encounter with the woman at the well: treating her gently and lovingly, while identifying the serial relationships in her life that were leading her to seek love in all the wrong places, leaving her an outcast.

Like Jesus, the Church needs to be both compassionate and honest, speaking the truth with love. In practical terms, we have all heard expressions like, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar;" or, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you" -- the latter being a way of saying, "Do not reject whoever fills your basket." Such pure pragmatism, however, can quickly lead to moral compromise.

How often it is suggested that the Church should change its practices and even its teachings to bring in more people, especially certain people with lots of money, celebrity or influence. But we are not a catering hall! Any organization grounded in fundamental principles will soon find itself abandoning them if its main focus is crowd-pleasing or, quite frankly, material gain.

Our founder's mission -- so also ours -- is not to please people, but to save them.

The core principle of the medical profession, the Hippocratic Oath, is, "Do no harm." We all know that medical practitioners today face great pressure to include in their services various practices that may actually harm those they serve.

The excessive prescription of certain medications that inevitably become addictive, though they might offer short-term pain relief, has caused long-term misery for countless individuals and their families, as many of us can personally attest. Such drugs may be a boon to pharmaceutical companies and bring physicians fancier cars but, in the long run, the cure becomes worse than the disease. Drugs from "Dr. Feelgood" can help the process of healing, but they can also destroy lives.

More dramatically -- though by no means obvious to many -- the very lucrative abortion industry literally cannibalizes innocent human lives, profiting by destroying them. Politically-powerful organizations like Planned Parenthood, deceptively advertising "care - no matter what" and "reproductive health," entice women, often in desperate straits, to act just as impulsively as they may have been led to in arriving there.

How different are the enablers of abortion really from gangs or the local "candyman" (drug dealer) when they exploit lonely, lovesick young people, already victims of abuse in their homes and relationships?

Can anyone rationally argue that abortion is a loving act of care? Where is the aftercare? Where is the respect, the patience and the nurture for the individuals involved -- mother, child and family? Where is the long-term commitment to treat them as whole persons -- body, mind and soul -- with a history and a future? You don't "save" anyone by killing her -- physically, morally or spiritually -- or her child.

In His public ministry, Christ sought to heal the whole person. He fed people by preaching, teaching, forgiving and healing. He loved them not only by welcoming, but also saving them.

Disciples of Jesus seeking to follow His example recognize that it is not enough just to offer platitudes, to hand out candy kisses or Mother's Day tokens. Love requires not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

Real healing takes something out of the healer, as we see in the sufferings of Christ, which took His last drop of blood. Love ultimately requires personal sacrifice for the beloved, as the English word "compassion" (or "suffer with") itself implies.

A Church commissioned to reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable among us must seek not only to make them feel good for an hour or so on Sunday, but throughout the long walk of daily life. The love that welcomes must be a love that stays -- or it will never save.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

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