By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published March 27, 2008
Almost 35 people joined the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at our Cathedral this weekend. A couple of thousand more people also did so in the other parishes and communities throughout North Georgia. It was a powerful and joyful moment for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
I myself entered the Catholic Church 49 Easters earlier at a parish on the south side of Chicago. I know the excitement and the joy that these fine people experienced this Easter. To look at the faces of those about to become Catholic is always a source of spiritual renewal for me—and obviously for those in attendance at the Easter Vigil, as they broke out in thunderous applause at the welcome that I extended to our newest Catholics at the conclusion of Mass.
When I visited the group from the Cathedral parish before the ceremony to welcome them personally and to offer my congratulations, one of the candidates asked me this question: “How do Catholics address one another?” I was taken aback because I had never heard such a question. I responded that we call each other “Bob, Joan, Peter and Susan!” But the question came from a person with a background where church members usually refer to one another as “Sister or Brother Jones, McCarthy or Anderson.” We Catholics do not have such titles for one another, but we are surely called to treat each other with the reverence and affection that we have for those who are indeed our sister or brother in Christ. And sad to say, we do not always do a perfect job in that category!
Titles are very important and wonderful, but the way that we treat one another is far more significant.
One of the candidates then asked me: “What should we call you?” Now there’s an open question if I’ve ever heard one! But her desire was to make sure that she and her family used my proper official title. It was a sign of the great gentility that we folk practice in the South and among Catholics. After giving her my official title, I thought to myself after those two inquiries that what’s far more important is how we treat one another.
One of my favorite Gospel stories is from St. Matthew’s 18th chapter where the question arose of how the community ought to treat an erring member. Matthew lays down several preliminary steps to be taken and finally acknowledges in conclusion that if all of those steps fails to win back the wayward member, then they should be treated like a Gentile or tax collector—the text is offered somewhat tongue-in-cheek since the Gospel author himself was a rehabilitated tax collector who had been treated quite well by none other than Christ Himself.
It is my prayer that these new Catholics will always be well treated by the community and that we all will be gentler in the way we treat each other. Matthew’s Gospel does not suggest that the community ought not correct errant members or simply ignore improper behavior or attitudes, it merely cautions the Church to be aware that the Lord Himself set a pretty high standard to be followed—even when dealing with tax collectors!