Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Rejected! One of the most traumatizing verdicts in the English language. Who has not feared or felt it? I didn’t make the team. They put me on the waiting list. I got fired. My spouse is divorcing me. No one calls. It happens to everyone. Even celebrities. Once-famous athletes, actors and other icons no longer “useful” because they aged out or just lost their appeal. 

As much as adults must cope with forms of rejection, feelings of being unwanted, inadequate or just “in the way,” young people suffer rejection fear big time. As one physician friend of mine said recently, “The drive to be humanly perfect is killing our kids right now, giving them anxiety, depression and addiction. People should be encouraged to be perfectly human, instead.”

So much of what destroys human freedom and creativity — and, therefore, happiness — is fear of failure or rejection. Fear of not making the mark. It won’t work. Been there, done that. Why even bother? I would suggest that at or near the root of many current crises of personal identity — including gender, sexuality and body image dysphoria in its many forms — are even deeper anxieties about not being accepted and valued for not conforming to perceived stereotypes of masculinity, femininity, physical appearance or affective behavior. Yes, it’s complicated, but no one is beyond hope or redemption before resorting to desperate and extreme measures. 

A recent summit at the Vatican, “Sport for All,” of which you may read in The Evangelist (see page 3), focused on the importance of participatory sports as important for all and that should be available to everyone. It can build character, team spirit, friendship and community. As Pope Francis observed, however, athletes and those promoting sports must fight against a throwaway culture, “that treats men and women as products to be used and then discarded.” When sports are promoted as a “life-giving activity” and focus on forming mature personalities, socialization and education, “playing a sport can become a way of personal and social redemption, a way to recover dignity,” and overcome isolation or exclusion, he said.

We just celebrated “Respect Life Sunday.” I have been reflecting on how we might lead following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Much pro-life activity has focused on protection of pre-born human life which, of course, is more than a product of conception as any sonogram or DNA test reveals. The core of our defense of life is the inclusiveness of the Gospel message, announcing Jesus as Savior of all humanity. God wants every human being — at any stage or condition of life — to be saved: accepted, affirmed, valued and called to eternal beatitude.

St. Paul writes, “God wants all to be saved and come to know the truth,” for which Christ Jesus, “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:4-6). This is a message of radical welcome and inclusion, a theme echoed throughout our synod listening sessions in which the faithful who participated echoed this passion and desire that we as a Church be more welcoming. 
As beautiful as the Gospel message of universal salvation is, the term “inclusion” is also, paradoxically, one that can lead to some confusion. It may become a political slogan — or be co-opted by certain ideologically aligned groups — as a rallying cry for certain behaviors that instead of bringing human fulfillment and eternal salvation are sinful and lead to death.

It is important to proclaim clearly that God — and the Church of Jesus Christ — rejects no one who seeks the truth and desires to pursue it. Is there anyone among us who has not felt at times misunderstood, disvalued or even excluded because of our feelings, thoughts or behaviors, whether known to many, just a few or only to God? Regardless of what we may have thought, felt or done, each of us is a beloved child of God for whom Jesus died, and would have sacrificed himself were we the only person in the world!

The most fundamental message of the Gospel is to accept being accepted, called by name and invited to walk with Jesus, who is the way to eternal life (cf. Jn 14:16). The next step is to hear the word of God and keep it (cf. Lk 11:28). This is a life-long journey, a daily pilgrimage to heaven one might say, in which Jesus accompanies us with and through one another. That is what the mission of his Church is. Sometimes we stumble along the way and, like a sheep who strays, the Lord seeks us out, finds us and leads us back, often through a sister or brother in the faith, or through a family or community. If any of us has been lost, caught in a vicious circle of addiction, abuse or toxic behavior, regardless of who or what may have been the cause, Jesus wants to encounter us exactly where we are and walk with us into the light of God’s grace. 

We are beginning a series of healing Masses, which you will learn about in forthcoming parish announcements. Every Mass is an offer of forgiveness, restoration and healing, but it will also be praying especially for those who may have experienced rejection and abuse, often suffering in silence.

The experience of being used or rejected may be what most leads into the dark shadows of fear and the isolation it brings. Fear of being judged and discarded. Fear of falling back into the same patterns. Fear of being hurt again. “Fear is useless. What is needed is faith” (Mk 5:36, Lk 8:50). How often must Jesus have repeated this exhortation, so key to the Gospel. His disciples also ask then, as we must now, “Lord, increase our faith” (cf. Lk 17:5). Jesus responds that just a tiny drop of faith, the desire alone to trust in him, will open incredible stores of grace. Faith is a power strong enough to move mountains. 

We can choose to remain what we have become and settle into our own nest or niche. We can fall prey to what has been dealt us by others, heaped upon us in our journey through “the slings and arrows” of life’s fortunes. We can try to define ourselves by what the data group into which we have been cast, the latest tattoo or other label stamped on us or even by the unique feelings or passions that stalk us by day or rouse us by night. We can live in reaction to fear or try to block it out by closing the door on the only One who can save us from it. Yes, THE One, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Some latch onto an idol, some puny “god,” usually a variation of sex (sensuality), money or power, all tools of the great deceiver Satan, to discourage a person from trusting that he or she is a child of God, whom Jesus wants to rescue and restore. A signal that always exposes tyrants is the fear they seek to induce, enraged by anyone daring to break away from their control. Instead, faith in the God of life leads not to rejection but to acceptance, healing and inclusion, a freedom to live a life that lasts forever. What then do you choose, faith or fear? It’s your life!