How baffling you are, O Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.
No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, though not completely. And besides, where would I go? Would I establish another? I would not be able to establish it without the same faults, for they are the same faults I carry in me. And if I did establish another, it would be my church, not the Church of Christ. I am old enough to know that I am no better than anyone else....
These words were written by Carlo Carreto, a leader in Catholic Action in Italy after World War II and later a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus. Given the number of things that seem to be swelling about regarding the Church these days, these words probably resonate with many people. Some who have found the Church difficult may have chosen to leave but many still remain understanding that there is nothing new about controversy when it comes to the Church, and in the words of Caretto: where would we go?
The Church has withstood for twenty-one centuries attacks and criticisms from the outside: persecutions (even into our own day), rebellion against one or another of the Church's doctrinal or moral teachings, etc. In the past few months, however, the Church has seen a large number of criticisms from within. To cite a few: 1) an opinion poll in Ireland, for many centuries a bastion of Catholicism, found that two-thirds of those polled do not accept the Church's teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist (this is somewhat higher than the results of a similar poll here in the U.S. in 2010 that found 45 percent of those polled thought the Church's teaching was that the Eucharist was a "symbol" of Christ's Body and Blood); 2) the publication of supposedly secret documents from the Vatican by an Italian journalist that led to the arrest of a member of the papal household (a happening now called "Vatileaks" by the media); 3) here in the United States, a decision by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to have a commission appointed to oversee and possibly overhaul the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) which decision has been strongly criticized by many, as well as calling into question a book published by a leading American moral theologian; and 4) the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) clash between the conservative and traditional wing of the Church and the liberal and progressive wing.
One thing about our Church, however, that I learned sometime ago is that the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church covers many people with differing opinions and ecclesiologies - and there is room for all. Arguments and controversy, as stated above, are nothing new in the Church; they began with Peter and Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. What we seem to be lacking today, however, is that while we may disagree on certain items, we turn those disagreements into attacks on those who oppose our views. Where is there room for Jesus' command: Love one another as I have loved you?
In a recent edition of our diocesan newspaper, our bishop wrote an article about civility in public discourse. Regarding how we are behaving in the Church today, he made this important statement: We must be a Church that hears the voices of Mother Angelica and Sister Elizabeth Johnson; of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; of the Legionaries of Christ and the Voice of the Faithful; of Opus Dei and Call to Action... If we could all heed the words of this reasonable statement, perhaps some of the sharp edges with which we confront others whose opinions differ from our own would become smooth and we could walk together in our continued journey of faith.
Another point I would make is that all of those who hold leadership positions in the Church need to remember that our model for how we deal with others is that of Jesus who got on his knees to wash his disciples' feet. Whether pope, bishop, priest, deacon, vowed religious or lay ecclesial minister - all must realize that the primary call of Christ is that of service to others. Problems occur when this is forgotten.
To the question, then, that I posed in my title : Why I Remain Catholic. I remain Catholic because the Church is my home; it is my family. Families have disagreements and disputes but when love covers all of these we can continue as a family. It is within this Church that I receive the nourishment I need to continue on my faith journey: nourishment from the word of God and from the Eucharist where Jesus comes to meet me and strengthen me. I cannot see myself walking away from this Church even with all of its warts and shortcomings because, again, where would I go?
I came across a wonderful prayer recently published in America magazine by Father James Martin, S.J. I believe it speaks to all that I have been saying and is no doubt the prayer that many of us need to say in these trying times. With Father Martin's permission, I present it to you now: