Everyone is Welcome… but

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

It’s fashionable for churches to post signs saying, “All are welcome!” I have to confess a bit of cynicism when I see them. It seems like an empty claim. Whatever sort of church it may be, I’m confident that there are certain views and opinions that would not be welcome there. And that’s as it should be.

A church, like any organization, exists for a specific purpose. It therefore will have a focus, a reason for being, a mission. People will be involved in that organization if they share in that vision. All organizations are therefore exclusive to some extent. You join the chess club because you like chess. If you can’t stand chess, then other clubs are better suited. It’s unreasonable to expect the chess club to accommodate your anti-chess proclivities.

All successful organizations have a relatively narrow focus. Campus ministry is no exception. We might say “all are welcome,” but that’s not strictly true. Our ministry is for college students. If you are a 54 year old man, or a 12 year old girl, we would ask you not to come to our events. It doesn’t mean we don’t love and respect you, but if we opened the doors to all demographics, we would lose our focus and not be able to serve the people we are called to serve. That may be exclusive, but it’s an exclusivity in service of mission.

An organization that accepted anyone and everyone with no criteria would be a society with no focus and no purpose. It wouldn’t be about anything, and that frankly sounds pretty boring to me. Who would want to be part of such a nothing group? It would, quite literally, be pointless. True friendship, comradery and companionship are always about something. There is a unifying factor, a shared vision, a common bond that brings people together.

If this is true of society on earth, it’s even more true of the perfect society of heaven. Heaven is not pointless. Heaven is about something, which means heaven is exclusive. Heaven is eternal union with God in a relationship of perfect love and you either want that for yourself or you don’t. You are either in love with God or you aren’t. You are either faithful to God or you aren’t. But you can’t have an unfaithful, unloving attitude toward God and still be in heaven, because that’s not what heaven is.

There is a passage in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus tells a parable of a king who invites his subjects to a wedding feast (Mt 22:1-14). The first people he invites ignore the invitation. Some even kill the messengers. So the king sends more messengers out into the streets to invite anyone they can find, the good and the bad alike. Many come, but a certain man shows up without a proper wedding garment. He is summarily kicked out. Why the harsh treatment?

It’s because, while this man thought he wanted to be at the wedding feast, he wasn’t willing to behave as one does at a wedding, meaning he didn’t really want to be there. It would be like saying you want to go to a concert but don’t want to listen to music. Perhaps a better example would be wanting to be married, but not wanting to be in a committed monogamous relationship ordered toward the raising of children. You may think you want the thing, but in reality you do not.

This parable is a metaphor of the heavenly kingdom. Jesus is telling us that we have all been invited to a great party: “All are welcome.” But it’s not enough to be invited. You have to want to come. You have to want to be there and be willing to accept all that that entails.

The mission of the Church is to help people get to that wedding feast and to make sure they are properly prepared. The Church is called Catholic because the invitation is universal (that’s what “catholic” means). This first reading this Sunday from Isaiah speaks of people of every nation and tongue being gathered into God’s family (Is 66:18). In that sense, all are truly welcome. But we know not everyone will accept the invitation or be willing to do what’s needed to get there. In this Sunday’s gospel, when Jesus is asked if the number of the saved will be few, notice that he doesn’t give a yes or no answer. Instead he gives us advice: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” Lk 13:24).

That narrow gate might sound restrictive, but that’s only if the gate is closed. God became man in Christ not to close the gate to heaven, but to open it! Jesus points to himself and says, “I am the gate” (Jn 10:9), “I am the way” (Jn 14:6). He is telling us that the way to heaven is through him because heaven is friendship with God, and Jesus is the Word of God. He’s hanging a big “All are welcome” sign on that gate — but we have to go through it. We have to follow in his way. All of the doctrines and dogmas of the Church are there to help do just that, to enter through that narrow gate that is Christ. They may seem like restrictive “rules,” but they are restrictive in the way that lines on the highway are restrictive: they keep you from running off the road and help you get to where you want to go.

So here at the beginning of the school year, allow me to clearly and emphatically state that everyone is welcome at Catholic Campus Ministry… BUT

  • Everyone will be challenged
  • Everyone will be called to repentance
  • Everyone will be taught the gospel
  • Everyone will be expected to grow in holiness
  • Everyone will be instructed in the Catholic tradition
  • Everyone will be encouraged to become a saint

That’s who we are and what we are about. We want to help you walk through that narrow gate. We realize this means we might not be for everyone. And that’s OK. We still love you. But we have a mission, and that mission is to form college students at Western Carolina University into disciples of Jesus Christ in the traditions of the Catholic Church. If that sounds at all intriguing to you, we’d love for you to be a part of us.