About a month or so ago, I had dinner with a young man whom I think disagrees with me on . . . a lot. If that were not enough, he was raised Catholic and was the type of kid (I knew him when he was in high school) that I would have expected to perhaps someday become a priest. Instead, he now seems drawn towards a secularist outlook on the world and attempts to understand the human person and the world from a rigorous scientific model that excludes any room for Faith. "We can know only what is observable through scientific methods" type of approach. To be fair, that is my attempt to describe his position accurately. He might phrase it differently, but I think I'm somewhere in the ballpark on that assessment.
Since that dinner, we've continued the conversations--as best as that is possible--through the medium of email, facebook, and texting. Of course, both of us are busy so the dialogue is spotty. In our conversations, we represent two vastly different world views. At the same time, there is an openness that exists on the part of each of us. In my worldview, one can have Faith and still be rigorously scientific. In his worldview, he doesn't see how that is possible, but he's not completely closed to it being possible. (Again, I don't want to characterize his positions). He articulates his worldview much better than I have portrayed it here and in our discussions, he is more articulate in his positions than I am in mine!
Admittedly, there's nothing I want more than for this young man to return to his Faith. But, I cannot impose Faith upon him. And, while it is safe to say that I will not be embracing his worldview, his questions, objections, arguments, and evidence all assist me. They help me to understand his position (and thus the position of others). They help me better to appreciate the good to be found in his positions and approach. And, they help me to grow in my own Faith and force me to fine tune my argumentation.
All of this comes to mind as I think about the Gospel for this Sunday. In commenting upon this Gospel, Benedict XVI points out that the cleansing of the temple took place in what was called, "The Courtyard of the Gentiles." Non-Jews were not permitted into the temple, but there was a courtyard where Gentiles could come, pray, and ask religious questions. Pope Benedict XVI says that today in the life of the Church there is again a need for a "Courtyard of the Gentiles," a place where non-believers can come and ask important questions and perhaps someday be brought to worship the One true God.
This Courtyard of the Gentiles is not the place for Catholics who want to believe half of what the Church teaches. It is not the place to say, "I'm Catholic but . . . ." The Courtyard of the Gentiles is the place where man can come and draw near to God, by asking the religious questions that arise within in his heart, but to do so as one who has not yet come to Faith. To approach the Church with questions and objections--not as one who seeks to battle with the Church--but as one who sincerely is seeking the truth.
Inside the Temple--inside the Church--the pulpit is not the place for dialogue. It is not the place to sow doubt or ambiguity. Inside the Church is the place of Faith, not the place of doubt. The pulpit is the place to proclaim to believers the Divinely revealed Word of God. It is the place where we once again rejoice that the Word became Flesh and where we worship. But, every Catholic and every church ought to have a Courtyard of the Gentiles--a place that has room for those who have questions and objections, those who disagree with us but who sincerely and genuinely seek the truth.
More often than not, those who are going to make the effort to come to this Courtyard of the Gentiles will be articulate and thoughtful in their questions and objections. These are not the people who simply hate the Church and want the Church to be silent on moral issues. These are the persons who live and struggle with the big questions of life. Catholics who greet them in the Courtyard of the Gentiles must be men and women of strong faith, capable of articulating the true Christian position. These Catholics must also be persons who are not simply looking to argue and win.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus cleaned out the obstacles in the temple in order to make room for the Gentiles. Similarly today, Catholics must allow their Courtyard also to be cleaned out. We should let nothing--not our arrogance, pride, anger, laziness in deepening our Faith, etc--obstruct the Gentiles from drawing near to the Church. Catholics who hang out in the Courtyard must be Catholics who first love the Temple and worship in truth and in spirit. And, they must also be persons who truly love and respect the Gentiles and who are able to engage in true dialogue based upon our common humanity.
I am very grateful for the privilege of being in the temple and living the life of Faith. At the same time, this priest is genuinely honored to be in the Courtyard.