G. K. Chesterton remarked once that the Catholic Church is larger on the inside than it appears from the outside. Saints come from all walks of life, and pursue their sainthood in multifarious ways. They include such diverse personalities as the gentle, innocent Thérèse of Lisieux, the acid-tongued scholar Jerome, the mirthful mystic Teresa of Ávila and the hard-headed, combative Wilfrid. It includes people who were saintly their whole lives (Philip Neri), people who found sainthood after years of sin (Ignatius Loyola, Camillus de Lellis), at least one who was martyred before his hair was dry from his baptism (Genesius of Rome), and one who was promised heaven while he hung on a cross for thievery (Dismas). They come in both sexes and from all around the world in ethnicity.They also come from “inside the walls” and “outside the walls”. That’s to say, the Church recognizes as saints not only clergy and members of religious orders but also laymen, people who lived their lives radically separated from the world (Antony the Great) and people who fully participated in the world (Thomas More), and many others in between these extremes.Because we can encounter Jesus in so many different ways, often when we least expect it, I get suspicious when anyone seems to propound a Best Way to Encounter God. I get even more suspicious when, to sell that Best Way, the proponent seems to diss going to church. Such carelessness is hard to excuse in a time when people are making a false dichotomy between Christianity and “churchianity”, rejecting church membership altogether as if religion were a do-it-yourself project.The “inside/outside the walls” dichotomy comes from an essay in The Huffington Post’s religion blog, “Why You Ought to Leave the Church (John 4:5-42)”, by Matthew Skinner, an associate professor of New Testament (studies?) at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul. Skinner’s piece is an exposition on the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, and has some interesting things to say.
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