In many places, the current paradigm seems to be that we should support and encourage the core of our parishes while trying to call to conversion those on the outside. Our teaching and preaching can be geared towards the big sins and the big problems with the intention of trying to change the dominant culture. The reason is that the people at the core give so much of their time and money, and in many ways they are the ones most likely to listen to our point of view.
As seductive and natural as such a position may seem, it runs contrary to how Jesus worked. Instead of comforting and consoling the most fervent Jews of his society, he challenged them to go deeper. He recognized that the difficulty for those who are at the core is that they can become proud and haughty. Their following of the rules can lead them to look down on others.
We have all experienced or participated in this kind of judgment. Perhaps we make a snide comment about the people who leave Mass early. Perhaps we make rash generalizations on people who try to get around the rules about religious instruction or other parish procedures. Another famous example are the folks who only come to the Church so that their children can receive the sacraments. We tend to look with disdain on those who do not seem to prioritize their relationship with God, or so we assume.
However, if we take serious the pattern established by Jesus, we will soon come to realize that we are not thinking with the mind of Christ. It is precisely those people that we should be consoling and building up. It is precisely to the people on the margins that we should extend our missionary activity within the parish, gently inviting them to the love and fraternity that we share. In contrast, we should be challenging the core.
We should be challenging the core to go deeper. We must call them not only to a threshold level of morality, but nothing short of the sanctity to which we are called. In this way, we must challenge them to let go of judgments and truly participate in the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. This participation is only possible if we lead them to intimacy with Christ. The goal of being a saint is beyond our natural abilities. We must help them to realize that their virtues and talents are a gift from God intended to build up the community.
That means that we also must live constantly aware of our weakness and total dependence on God. We must not fail to walk our journey continuously mindful of our need for conversion and forgiveness. In this way, we challenge the core by discovering within ourselves the weaknesses common to all. We have the courage to be vulnerable in our call to discipleship, and to call the core of our parishes to do the same.