You know how, once you start noticing something, you see it everywhere? For me lately, it's been a line of Cardinal Ratzinger's (now Pope Benedict). In any conversation on a Catholic forum, someone's got to bring up, "Well, you know the Pope said we would have a smaller and more faithful Church."
First, it was with this whole fiasco with a priest denying a lesbian woman Communion at her mother's funeral. (My opinion on the matter: there is a canonical procedure for denying someone communion, and he didn't follow it. That's why the diocese apologized. No, the Eucharist is not for those in a state of grave sin. However, leaving the altar during her remarks and refusing to attend the burial was unnecessary and uncalled for. The priest's duty was to follow canon law as regards respecting the Eucharist -- not to make a point.)
A lot of people were saying, "This kind of attitude is just going to drive people away from the Church! How are we to help people who are living a sinful lifestyle if we are not welcoming them and being kind?"
The response was, "Well, the Pope said we would have a smaller and more faithful Church." They actually suggested that gays and other "obvious" sinners should be banned from attending Mass and other parish functions because if they really cared about being Catholic, they'd change.
Call me a flaming liberal, but I don't think it's ever been the Church's way to cast sinners out and demand they change before associating with them. Instead we show them respect, kindness, and mercy. I mean, what odds are there that, after being kicked out of the Catholic Church, someone is going to randomly think years later, "Hey, you know what? I'm going to turn away from sin and go to confession"? Not nearly as good, I think, as those that they might have that idea after sitting in the pew Sunday after Sunday, hearing the Gospel and the homily and watching the example of their fellow Catholics -- who, despite popular opinion, turn out to be really nice and also happy in their faith.
The other one was in a discussion of little children at Mass. The writer of the article said that young families were leaving the Church because they were being made to feel unwelcome with their children. Most people agreed -- but a few announced, "Well, church isn't about being made to 'feel' welcome. It's about the body and blood of Christ, and if they don't get that, they can leave. After all, didn't the pope say we would have a smaller and more faithful Church?"
This isn't a matter of doctrine. This is a matter of not giving people dirty looks because their two-year-old yelled "Is Jesus here?" during Mass. Sure, people should be so faithful that they will stay in a Church even where people are nasty jerks because, after all, we're here for Jesus. But is it fair to say that no one should be in church at all unless they're so perfect that they no longer are upset by uncharity?
When I hear the "smaller and more faithful" comment, it's a sure sign that someone is saying, "We don't need a Church composed of sinners. We need a Church composed only of the perfect, of which I, of course, am one. Let's get rid of all the sinners."
I don't think that's what the Pope meant at all. I think he meant, "Our doctrine is very challenging, and as it comes more and more into opposition with the values prevalent in our time, people are going to leave." And they are, most certainly. But to those of us who say, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life," Jesus does not say, "Well, you'll have to leave anyway, because you're unworthy." His way has always been to say "Follow Me," and it's up to us to follow. We can say no, turn him down, prefer our sins. But to whatever extent we are willing to follow him, he's willing to take us.
Jesus was the type to forgive sinners first and then tell them to stop sinning. Sometimes he didn't say a word about their sins, but they were moved to abandon them when they saw there was another option. It gave scandal to many, who demanded he stop associating with tax collectors and prostitutes. But he knew that, when they had been forgiven much, they would love him much, and their love would surpass that of those who had never sinned.
Sure, the Church is slowly becoming smaller, and it does seem to be getting, in many ways, more faithful. But our job is not to slam the doors of the Church against anyone. Instead we need to keep doing what we have always been doing: living a life worthy of imitation, and showing charity to all, so that they want what we have. We win converts one step at a time. My own mother didn't know many of the Church's teachings back when she converted. She didn't spring from the ground a fully-formed Catholic. But through years and years of attending Mass, reading the Catechism, going to Bible studies, she became more educated than most cradle Catholics. Are people going to say now that in order to be a "real" Catholic, you have to pass a doctrine test before you're allowed to show up for Mass?
Many will leave Christ on account of his hard teachings. But let it not be through our lack of charity that they go.