One glorious afternoon, I had a rare fifteen minutes before I had to pick up my daughters from their Catholic school. I felt a tug on my heart.
Come visit Me in the adoration chapel.
My heart soared. My husband worked from home, so I could leave behind the napping littles. Fifteen minutes to pray and reset. Just me and Jesus.
I grabbed my keys and looked down. My stomach sank. I was in running shorts and tennis shoes, not the ideal attire for going to Church. My clothes were in my bedroom with a sleeping baby. I had to decide: Go to adoration in shorts or skip altogether?
I “risked it” . . . and spent my fifteen minutes anxious about what the other adorers thought. Surely, they assumed I was an irreverent Catholic. Surely, I’d get a side eye on my way out.
But of course, no one made a comment or even looked at me twice. Likely, no one noticed me or what I was wearing. But my fears of being called out or noticed points to a somewhat pervasive Christian problem: We tend to determine people’s belonging to the faith more on outward displays of belief, as well as adherence to Christian teachings, more than we see them as belonging simply because they are children of God.
I belonged in the adoration chapel just as much as anyone else, regardless of whether I was in my Sunday best, whether I closed my eyes, or whether I knelt or sat. While decorum and morality certainly have a place in calling us to a greater love of God and reverence for the Church, they do not determine whether we have a place in the pew.
Satan often uses our fears of belonging to convince us that we are not worthy to be there. When we fall into a pattern of sin, he tells us we need to straighten up if we want to be “real” Christians. When we miss Mass one week, we can believe the lie that we need to go to Confession before we can show our faces again (of course, we need to go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion, but we can and should still attend Mass). When we don’t have on our best church attire, when we don’t know the responses or the tunes to the songs, when we have to go to Mass by ourselves (or with our children but not our spouse)—We may feel we don’t belong because we are out of our element, we can’t really participate anyway, or we will be a distraction to others. THESE ARE LIES.
You belong at Mass. You belong in adoration. You belong in Confession. You belong in Church organizations. Not because you are dressed right. Not because you are feeling particularly in touch with God. Not because you have been living a moral life. Not because you have done anything to earn His love or attention. But because you are His.
And while we need to remind ourselves that we are worthy of God’s love, we also need to see God’s unconditional love for others, too. We may see a family in casual clothes, a parent with rambunctious children, or the family walking in during the middle of the readings—and they belong there just as much as we do. Even a person known to struggle with addiction, gossip, or same-sex attraction has a place to receive God’s love. We are all sinners in need of His mercy. Should we be open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in encouraging others toward perfection in their faith? Absolutely. But belonging to our Church or coming to Mass is not something that we earn. Rather, it is a free gift given to us by God at our Baptism and through our continual life of repentance. We are called to lead by example in our repentance and invite everyone to the table so that God’s love, not our judgment or correction, can do its work on their hearts.
As a final note, Jesus’ parables teach us that He desires us even more earnestly when we are living lives away from His Heart. When we are His lost sheep, how ardently He seeks us! He leaves the ninety-nine, searching for our poor souls, wishing to call us back to Himself (Luke 15:3–7). Or when we are His prodigal children, He runs to us, even when we haven’t yet apologized or proven that we are faithful Christians, because we are His—regardless of how we may look or act (Luke 15:11–32).
As I was once reminded by a wise priest, there is nothing we can do to make God love us less, and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more. We may be faithful in our prayer lives, or we may be struggling to attend even weekly Mass; we may be living in close accordance with Church teaching, or we may have fallen into a pattern of sin. And God loves us all the same. We don’t have to do anything to earn that love.
We are chosen and set apart because we are His children, created in His image. And He wants us to come to Him, exactly as we are, good days or bad, faithful or struggling, shorts and all.