The above “ad” is from Catholics Come Home, a successful (by all accounts I have read) public TV and Internet program for calling people into the Church. It used to be just about those who were brought up Catholic, but it has expanded it’s resources to include other evangelistic situations.
The thing you will notice about the ad above is that it isn’t so much about the Church – it isn’t advertising the Church as such – as about relationships with others, with yourself and with God. There are Catholic Come Home ads that do say how great the Church is, but the message of this one is simple: Repent. Turn back. Come home. It is the age-old message of the prodigal son who “returns to the Father”.
In today’s edition of The Age, Fr Erik Hodgens has another one of his rants against the Catholic Church (of which he is a priest!). What’s particularly got his goat this time is the announcement that Cardinal Pell intends to run the Catholics Come Home campaign in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
You would think that any campaign to call people to “come home” to the Waiting Father would be something that would make any ordained servant of the Lord Jesus Christ happy. But not Fr Hodgens. He launches into an attack on everything he sees as wrong with the Church. Isn’t there something wrong here to start with? It is clear that he despises leaders like Cardinal Pell, and his animosity is such that he will go to great lengths to publically attack the Church in any way that he can. Does he truly believe that by doing this he is serving his Lord?
I can’t speak for Fr Hodgens and what is going on in his heart of darkness. While I share his vision of a Church which clearly proclaims “a gospel of life, peace, forgiveness, love and welcome” – something which I think the Catholic Church is doing and actually is doing very well, even though it could always do better – I do not share his vision of what such a Church would look like.
He calls for a Church which abandons its witness to
• the indissolubility of the Sacrament of Marriage
• the grave immorality of sex outside of marriage (whether hetero or homo)
• the grave immorality of the destruction of embryos in IVF
• the criminality of killing unborn children
He says that
These issues are why thousands have left. Until these issues are reasonably addressed the cardinal can forget about these Catholics coming back.
The Catholics Come Home campaign does something which Jesus himself did. He preached the joy of belonging to the Kingdom of God and invited everyone to enter into it. He described it as a “marriage feast” to which everyone is invited. But he also said:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:13-14)
In short Jesus called for repentance from sin, and offered a Way of Life in which those who answered the call would experience freedom from their slavery to sin. Entering the Kingdom was not “easy” precisely because with the invitation came the demand to recognise the forces of sin at work in our lives and to begin a journey of life long conversion and repentance.
It seems to me significant that immediately after talking about the “narrow gate”, Jesus went on to say:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 7:15-21)
Just as we should be beware of any evangelist who comes to us preaching some kind of “prosperity gospel”, a gospel of ease and success rather than the Gospel of taking up our crosses and following Jesus, so we should be beware of any false prophet who would offer us a Gospel that ceases to expose sin for what it is and ceases to call for repentance.
The bottom line is not about bums-on-pews. The Church does not have as its mission the task of making being a follower of Jesus so easy that the Kingdom no longer makes any demands upon us personally, no longer asks us to change the way we live. It is true that many have left the Church for the reasons that Fr Hodgens outlines in his opinion piece. But these things are sins. In the name of Jesus the Church offers “life, peace, forgiveness, love and welcome” to all sinners, but the Church can never stop repeating Jesus’ call to repentance from sin.
The Church has many “prodigal sons” who have left home seeking an easier life. The Catholics Come Home campaign is calling these people to hear Jesus’ invitation once again, to turn, to repent and to come home to the embrace of our Loving Father. Beware of false prophets who would suggest that there is a way into the Kingdom which bypasses this difficult and demanding call to repentance.