“The temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:17)
Some of us may have childhood memories of strict policing of potential misbehaviour in church. Reverential silence and genuflections were drummed into little minds, while fidgeting, talking, or any other kind of noise was rigorously controlled. A website written by a priest in the current day carries fierce admonitions about appropriate behaviour in church. His long list of condemnations covers adult and child clothing, toilet habits and punctuality. He compares those leaving Mass after communion to Judas Iscariot and recommends sending those who leave chewing gum or cigarette butts in church to a specially reserved place in Purgatory.
Some people experience “irreverent” behaviour in a sacred place as intolerably sacrilegious. We all share the responsibility for making the liturgy a time in which others can find peace, prayer and balm for their souls. Understanding of our context and the behaviour appropriate to it helps towards this. But our places of worship also need to be places of compassionate inclusion where no one feels pointed at and judged. Many people’s childhood experience of church has driven them away as adults. No one who feels judged and excluded in God’s house will happily return.
Pope Francis has said he prefers a Church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty” to one where those considered outsiders are excluded. Jesus expelled the money changers from the Temple for turning it into a market. But he always welcomed children, sinners and disreputable people into his presence. Truly in his Father’s house there are many rooms, even for those who are badly behaved.
Lord Jesus, you welcomed many who were rejected by the religious authorities. Give us the patience to welcome all who come to God’s house and the humility to be grateful for their companionship. Amen.