As I continue to reflect on our Church in crisis (see my earlier column here), I am taken by how hard it is to be a public Catholic these days. Well, it is probably hard to be a public Catholic anytime, but it is probably a bit harder in these days of scandal. While most may not know you are Catholic, some do and it is as if you can hear some of your friends saying: “Why would you still go to that Church?” Even if your friends aren’t saying it, in various media you hear the voices of many who speak of the Catholic Church in such terms that it even makes you ask yourself that question. So what is your answer? Life is challenging and unfair that way, it requires uncomfortable answers at the most inconvenient times. Know, however, that you are not alone and you are not asking a new question at all.
Since the first Pentecost, there have been believers in Jesus who have felt unsure if they wanted to associate themselves with that group who were proclaiming him as Lord. While in those early days the consequences of an answer were literally life or death, it wasn’t long after the Edict of Milan that followers of Jesus who no longer feared persecution for practicing, feared the association because other believers whom they met weren’t very believable. Throughout the centuries to the present, there are ample examples of a Church living in sin that was difficult to claim as your own. And yet, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more (Rom. 5:20).” Can we really believe then, with the sins of our past, that the Roman Catholic Church has carried on simply by human intervention? And if not, do we want to walk away from a divine institution that is blotted by such terrible sins, since it must be in need of our presence to make known more obviously God’s grace?
So herein lies my simple response to the difficult question: Why would I still go to that Church? Because . . .
- With all of her sins, this community of faith is still mine, and like every love relationship, I am called to unconditional love that gives of myself totally in good times and in bad.
- I am a Confirmed member of the Church that claims me even in my sinfulness.
- I have found truth and powerful witnesses of grace that outweigh these horrible sins, as God’s love always does.
- I believe that the Church is working toward reform even though the results of it are not yet complete.
- There is no church or religious movement comprised of human beings that will not be fraught with sin.
- I want to be a part of renewal and growth in a community that has much to offer when it isn’t imploding in sin.
There is a fresco in the upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi that depicts a dream of Pope Innocent III who had received a visit earlier in the day from Francis of Assisi asking for approval of his way of life. In the dream, Innocent sees Francis holding up the Church of St. John Lateran (the “Vatican” before it was at the Vatican) which was falling over. In the fresco by Giotto, there is an optical illusion where Francis is standing on the steps holding up the building that is falling over (how can one hold up oneself?). It is said that the artist wanted to portray the truth that St. Francis wanted to reform the Church from within, rather than simply critique from afar.
Why would you still go to that Church? Because that Church needs you in it to help rebuild for a challenging today and ever-challenging tomorrow that requires all hands on deck. Ultimately, a simple passage from John’s Gospel heard on 8/26 comes to my mind: “Master, to whom shall we go? We have come to believe that you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68-69). If we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, no matter what we do in sin, Jesus will not abandon us. May we find the courage to do the same even as we seek to convert our Church’s sinful ways. And may we continue to see Christ in and through this broken Church as the ultimate leader with whom we all walk together as sinners on the journey.
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