Friday, June 15, 2012

Why I Remain Catholic

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:

Dear God, sometimes I get so frustrated with your church.
I know that I’m not alone. So many people who love your church feel frustrated with the Body of Christ on earth. Priests and deacons, and brothers and sisters, can feel frustrated, too. And I’ll bet that even bishops and popes feel frustrated. We grow worried and concerned and bothered and angry and sometimes scandalized because your divine institution, our home, is filled with human beings who are sinful. Just like me.
But I get frustrated most of all when I feel that there are things that need to be changed and I don’t have the power to change them.
So I need your help, God.
Help me to remember that Jesus promised that he would be with us until the end of time, and that your church is always guided by the Holy Spirit, even if it’s hard for me to see. Sometimes change happens suddenly, and the Spirit astonishes us, but often in the church it happens slowly. In your time, not mine. Help me know that the seeds that I plant with love in the ground of your church will one day bloom. So give me patience.
Help me to understand that there was never a time when there were not arguments or disputes within your church. Arguments go all the way back to Peter and Paul debating one another. And there was never a time when there wasn’t sin among the members of your church. That kind of sin goes back to Peter denying Jesus during his Passion. Why would today’s church be any different than it was for people who knew Jesus on earth? Give me wisdom.
Help me to trust in the Resurrection. The Risen Christ reminds us that there is always the hope of something new. Death is never the last word for us. Neither is despair. And help me remember that when the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples, he bore the wounds of his Crucifixion. Like Christ, the church is always wounded, but always a carrier of grace. Give me hope.
Help me to believe that your Spirit can do anything: raise up saints when we need them most, soften hearts when they seem hardened, open minds when they seem closed, inspire confidence when all seems lost, help us do what had seemed impossible until it was done. This is the same Spirit that converted Paul, inspired Augustine, called Francis of Assisi, emboldened Catherine of Siena, consoled Ignatius of Loyola, comforted Thérèse of Lisieux, enlivened John XXIII, accompanied Teresa of Calcutta, strengthened Dorothy Day and encouraged John Paul II. It is the same Spirit that it with us today, and your Spirit has lost none of its power. Give me faith.
Help me to remember all your saints. Most of them had it a lot worse than I do. They were frustrated with your church at times, struggled with it, and were occasionally persecuted by it. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by church authorities. Ignatius of Loyola was thrown into jail by the Inquisition. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated. If they can trust in your church in the midst of those difficulties, so can I. Give me courage.
Help me to be peaceful when people tell me that I don’t belong in the church, that I’m a heretic for trying to make things better, or that I’m not a good Catholic. I know that I was baptized. You called me by name to be in your church, God. As long as I draw breath, help me remember how the holy waters of baptism welcomed me into your holy family of sinners and saints. Let the voice that called me into your church be what I hear when other voices tell me that I’m not welcome in the church. Give me peace.
Most of all, help me to place all of my hope in your Son. My faith is in Jesus Christ. Give me only his love and his grace. That’s enough for me.
Help me God, and help your church.

1 comment:

  1. Deacon Hook,

    I appreciate this defense of the Church and why you remain a Catholic. It reminds me of this passage from a homily of St. Josemaría Escrivá, who died in 1975:

    "The Catholic Church does not need the approval of men, for it is the work of God. We will show ourselves to be Catholics by the fruits of sanctity which we produce, for sanctity does not admit of any frontiers, nor is it the patrimony of any particular group. We will show ourselves to be Catholics if we pray, if we strive to direct ourselves to God at all times, if we make an effort always and in all things to be just — if we love and defend the personal freedom of other men....

    If by chance you hear offensive words or shouts hurled against the Church, show their loveless authors, with humanity and charity, that they cannot mistreat a mother in that way. They attack her now with impunity, because her kingdom which is that of her Master and Founder, is not of this world. As long as the wheat groans among the straw, as long as the spikes of wheat sigh among the cockle, as long as the vessels of mercy lament among those of ire, as long as the lily sobs among the thorns, there will always be enemies who say: when will she die and her name perish? They think: there will come a time in which the Church will disappear and there will be no more Christians... But, when they say this, they of necessity die. And the Church remains.

    No matter what happens, Christ will not abandon his spouse. The Church triumphant is already with him at the right hand of the Father. And our Christian brothers beckon us to join them there, they who glorify God for this reality which we still see in the clear shadow of faith: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."

    Chris Spellman
    Wynantskill, NY
    Parishioner of Sacred Heart Church, Troy, NY