A Meditation on Love and Lament for the Church

111813As a priest and pastor I work very closely with others, both clergy, religious and laity, who work for the Church and also volunteer. And of course all of us work for the Church, often for lower salaries than we could command elsewhere, because we love the Church and her people.

But along with that love comes, at times a disappointment, hurt or even disillusionment. Perhaps it is just the local problems of parish that are found in any gathering of human beings: gossip, hurtful actions, hypocrisy, power struggles, wrongful priorities, favoritism, injustice and so forth.

And while these things happen everywhere, many somehow hope there will be less of it in the Church. So who have come to work for the Church began by thinking, “What a wonderful thing, to work for a church (instead of in the cut-throat business world etc). Perhaps they envisioned a place where people prayed together and supported each other more, perhaps a place where there was less competition, and strife.

Alas, such hopes are usually set aside early for any who work for the Church. We are after all running a hospital of sorts. And just like hospitals tend to attract sick people, so the Church attracts sinners and those who struggle. Jesus was found in strange company, such that the Pharisees, were scandalized. He rebuked them saying People who are well do not need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous. (Mk 2:17)

And thus idealistic notions of working in and for the Church often give way quickly when the phone rings with an impatient parishioner on the line, or when two group leaders argue over who gets to use the hall, or when the pastor is irritable and disorganized, or when the maintenance engineer is is found to be drinking on the job, or certain members of the choir are making anything but harmony, or when some parishioners who are favorites get attention and access from the old guard leaders, and newcomers are resisted.

And then, of course there are the more serious and wider issues such as the betrayal of clergy sexual abuse; or the deep disappointments that sometimes come from a lack of courage and leadership from bishops and priests; the scandal of dissent in the highest levels such as universities, seminaries and so forth; the acceptance of money from questionable sources; questionable partnerships with anti-life and and anti-Catholic organizations; the breakdown of discipline; the strange severity over some infractions, and the almost total laxity toward other problems. The list could on.

In all these sorts of situations, be they mere irritation, disappointment or deep disillusionment, I keep a little prayer card near my desk, that I sometimes read for my own benefit, and sometimes to share with those who feel discouraged at what happens (or does not happen) in the Church. At critical moments, I slide the card out and read it to myself or to others, especially those who love the Church and work closely with her.

It is a beautiful mediation for it recalls how great love often generates the deepest disappointments. But in the end, love still abides.

I realize that many who read here have great love for mother Church, and also deep disappointments. And I apologize that I cannot post all your comments in this regard. But I do understand, great love can also provoke great shock and anger. But, at the end of the day, this is a blog that seeks to instill greater love for the Church and for faith, not to further inflame anger.

That said, we all know that people disappoint, and thus the Church, filled with people, disappoints too. I DO understand even if I cannot always grant the forum desired to vent those concerns.

Consider however the following words. They are perhaps overstated in places. But love has its excesses. Take these words as a kind of elixir that, even if excessive, will hopefully speak to the pain that love sometimes causes. But in the end, love is what remains. Here are the words I often share with those freshly hurt:

How baffling you are, Oh 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. – Carlo Carretto in “The God Who Comes”

Yes, where else would I go?

28 Replies to “A Meditation on Love and Lament for the Church”

    1. FWIW, I was born Catholic in 1962 and never even heard the word “concupiscence” (and rarely, if ever read it) until I was in my mid-twenties. As far as I can recall, it had no dynamic equivalent — not, I must admit to my shame, that I was around the Church much to hear it by that time, or for the succeeding 20 years or so. My eternal thanks go to those who stuck closer to the Church and to the truths she defends than I did, for without them I’d never have made it back at all.

  1. Brilliant prayer by Signor Carretto! Thanks Monsignor. I think the key stanza is:

    No, I cannot free myself from you,
    because I am you, though not completely.
    And besides, where would I go?

    For me, that really says it all. Brilliant!

  2. Vatican II made sin irrelevant, now we are all going straight to Heaven, the Church is an arm of Unicef, the Mass is ruled by cheesy Marty Haugen tunes belted out by aging “religious” in butch haircuts and pantsuits, popes kiss korans and tell atheists that trying to convert people is “solemn nonsense” and meanwhile despite all the evidence showing that Vatican II has facilitated the greatest crisis in Church history the Vatican decides that the “Year of Faith” is going to celebrate not the entire corpus of dogmas, doctrines and traditions that have sustained the Church for centuries but the very Council that has rendered Catholicism impotent and irrelevant! Still i remain in the Church but attend a Latin Mass but my goodness, one cannot make this stuff up it’s so crazy. This will go down in history as the most absurd and decadent era of the Church. Great prayer about the Church by the way.

        1. You’re showing your age. Talk to the average Catholic under 40 and mention VC II and you get blank stares. You just sound like an old codger talking about how used to walk thirty miles to school in knee deep snow uphill, both ways. There are actually a few other things that have transpired since 1965 that are of some relevance: sex reveolution, no fault divorce, rock n roll, computers, threee wars, cold war, rise of Isalm, secularism, internet, etc. and thus the blank stare is translated: “Vatican Council what?” You just sound old, and perhaps as if youre wearing a tin foil hat talking about a boogie man or trilateral commission or some other conspiracy. At best you seem more like any other aging hippie, hopelessly stuck in the 1960s. Can we please move on from the vatican 2 thing. This is 2013. Your remarks not commit the classic post hoc propter hoc fallacy, they are also rooted in the speculative assumption that the Church would has escaped the cultural revolution without a Council. Perhaps, but it is also possible that things would be worse. The reality is that we just cant know. In end the ordinary form is not going away and most people go to it. The best thing is to live in what is and work with what is before us than to bitterly decry what we think was misguided. I don’t really think you can know if it was or not. As for me i would rather till the soil I have been given, and this is still a lot of good and fertile land and great things happening in the Church.

          1. I’m glad you put the sexual revolution and no-fault divorce at the top of your list, Monsignor. The unraveling of society that we are witnessing today (one of the symptoms of which is the decline of the Church) stems ultimately, I think, from the disintegration of the family.

          2. “Can we please move on from the vatican 2 thing. This is 2013. ”

            Many Catholics would absolutely love to “move on” from Vatican 2 and stop hearing pitches from certain authorities about how wonderful it was, how entire years of Faith ought to center around it, and how the unprecedented collapse in ecclesial life is actually a “new springtime” for the Church. But we can’t “move on” unless the authorities in question themselves agree to moderate their fixation with that council.

            The fact that Vatican 2 and discussion of its harmful effects elicits a blank stare from many young people doesn’t mean that it’s not relevant; it means that many young people have no knowledge about or interest in spiritual matters, but are wholly absorbed by secularist, materialist, consumerist pursuits, and are utterly oblivious to the massive apostasy which has devastated the West for half a century and counting.

            Finally, it’s not at all a post hoc fallacy to note that, comparatively speaking, things were much better in the Church pre-council (full seminaries, full convents, full pews on Sunday, long confessional lines, Catholic Church comparatively regarded with respect and deference by secular society, etc.) than post-Council, and that it seems at least slightly ridiculous to pretend that this dramatic and undeniable collapse “just so happened,” by sheer chance, to almost exactly coincide with a major ecumenical council which attempted to radically liberalize the Church’s operation.

          3. Has it occurred to you that the paradise you describe before 1962 produced the rebels you decry? All those rebels were formed in and came forth form the Church of 1950s. What happened MV ??? They were formed in the Church and the system you laud. Latin, memorized catechism, Pastor is in charge, authority, chant, did I mention Latin? Quid accidit?? Quid???

          4. Monsignor,

            I didn’t say, nor did I even imply, that things were the equivalent of “Paradise” before the Council. What I did say (and what no informed observer can deny) is that comparatively speaking (emphasis on the word “comparatively”), things were much better with regard to the human element of the Church pre vs. post-Council. I think you yourself have conceded this with posts on the declining number of marriages and Baptisms in your parish, etc. I would also disagree that the rebels were truly “formed” by the pre-Council Church. How many of the post-60’s Modernists had a deep and abiding love and devotion for the traditional liturgy, traditional Thomistic theology, the traditional pieties and devotions of the preconciliar Catholic life? It seems that few or none of them did, or else they would not have been so easily taken. Hence they weren’t truly “formed” by those aspects, even if they may have externally carried them out.

            I agree that it would be overly simplistic to blame absolutely all the problems on Vatican II, but likewise would it be overly naive to pretend that the onset of the massive problems “just so happened,” by sheer coincidence, to crystalize and accelerate right as the Council finished.

            As for what caused and continues to cause the problems, books would be needed to answer that question, books such as Romano Amerio’s “Iota Unum,” the work of Fr. Luigi Villa on the papacy of Paul VI, Michael Rose’s “Goodbye Good Men” on the state of Catholic seminaries, and the encyclicals of the preconciliar popes, above all, St. Pius X’s “Pascendi Dominici Gregis” on Modernism, the scourge which continues to afflict the Church to this day.

            God bless you, Monsignor.

          5. Yeah but there is more to it than “Vatican II.” We need to set aside this tired old moniker, it is a simplistic blame game. The issues are more complicated and tied to the wider culture as well. VC II isn’t going away. Time to live in the real Church and use what the Spirit has given us, which includes the TLM but is not limited to it. Most people go to the Ordinary Form and do not remember the preconcilar Church. This is reality. Debates about what would have happened if there were no Council are speculative and not rooted in reality. The Council occurred. Time to get to work in the world as it is.

    1. Actually, I agree with both justin and Father Pope. Yes, there have been some grave mistakes made in the Church since Vatican II. Were they the fault of Vatican II, I don’t think so. Many of the attempted changes that Vatican II wanted, have never really been done. It is like many used Vatican II to bring about every change every priest, nun, and layman wanted in the Church except for bringing about holiness and reverence.

      At the same time, Vatican II allowed for laymen to become more involved in the workings of the Church. Each of us is called to charity and holiness. Leading up to Vatican II, most Catholic were much more devout and dedicated to the Catholic Church, but they didn’t act on it in their lives. How many mafia bosses were at mass every week? Vatican II called each of us to live a life of holiness like a priest or nun but in a different vocation. Most Catholics prayed much more than they do now. Most had a closer relationship with God, but most didn’t act on that holiness in their everyday lives.

      The problem I see is that we gave up the devotion, prayer and reverence which Vatican II didn’t want, and never put on the Christian life it did call for.

  3. You are totally on the mark, Monsignor. As a parishioner of the parish at which I serve as a volunteer and as a paid part-time staffer, I know well of which you speak. Sometimes, I limit my time at the church office just so that I can avoid the negativity that can be overwhelming. Our frontline staff never knows what they will have to manage or whom they will have to comfort or accommodate throughout ‘office hours.’ As you have stated — and as Pope Francis has remarked, the parish office is often an emergency room of a field hospital. It can be so very wonderful and so very wearing at the same time. I am the RCIA director, so my emergency room experience is by observance than actual hands-to-the-plow. I get the people after the ER has diagnosed them, to so speak!
    All the staffers know that I pray for each of them each day and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament for their intentions as well. If they can’t find me during the day in my office, they know they can find me with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. I tell our priests that I daily pray for them. It is important that especially staffers know that you are in prayer with them and for them.
    Bless you for your words, Monsignor. The ‘prayer’ is a keeper.

  4. The poem spoke to my heart of hearts. It is so true. Some days i just want to throw up my hands and walk away. But all the good i am, any courage or strength of character i may possess came from my Catholic church. I would undergo a second widowhood if i were to leave. My faith defines me, the Church shelters me.

  5. There are plenty of websites which can be read by those who wish to learn more about the problems in the Church which you have referred to. I do not wish to argue that such websites should not exist but I think that it is a kindness to know that there are some websites which leave that kind of thing to others and concentrate instead on helping us to overcome our own faults so that we can heed Christ’s call to become more holy.

  6. Dear Monsignor Pope,
    Your article is right on; the Catholic Church is made up of frail, original-sin-affected human beings. Even the lives of saints are littered with sufferings caused by confreres. One such example is Saint Raphaela Mary of the Sacred Heart. She was born in Spain in 1850 and died in Italy in 1925. She founded the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart and she was the first superior general, but she suffered at the hands of her four advisers, who eventually drove her out of office. She later wrote in retreat notes: “I . . . am nailed to my cross with painful nails. There is no offense on their part, for like Our Lord’s nails, they are put there by the Will of the Eternal Father. [I must] live willingly nailed by them.” The assistants spread false rumors about her, one being that she was mentally incompetent. Because of the strife, which she never disclosed to anyone, she resigned at the height of her physical and mental powers. Her response was: “My duty is to be silent, to pray, and to suffer.” She was exiled to a convent in Rome where she was given no status and where she served the others by sewing and doing domestic chores. When she died at the age of 74, few of the sisters remembered her as superior. In fact, she had never issued any words of condemnation because of her plight nor made any attempt at self-vindication. No inscription on her tomb even hinted that she was the foundress of the order. But God intervened, and the truth came out. Her body was incorrupt for 30 years, and she was canonized in 1977.
    I wonder how many of us could suffer such injustice in humble silence for most of our adult lives.

  7. Not too many short decades ago, a priest even mentioning the faults of the Church, as you have done here, well — they wouldn’t have! Acknowledging weakness is the basic first step in pursuing strength. The Church can only fall so far, even at its worst. God is our safety net and He will renew it and make it more vibrant than before. Pray, pray, pray!

  8. Dear Msgr. Pope

    Yes, we are all flawed human beings struggling with our tendencies toward sin and there will never be a workplace, parish or organization free of the conflicts and disappointments that you describe. But I do believe that a lot of it could be alleviated in the Church if there was some attention paid to personnel management. This might sound like I’m missing the point here but I don’t think I am.

    I am an MBA who spent 30+ years in the “cut throat business world” before joining the staff of my local parish as DRE last year. I have never worked in an atmosphere as unpleasant as this one. Like Stephanie said in one of the comments above, I work from home about 80% of the time because the distractions are so great and frankly, they are an occasion of sin for me. I find myself getting right in there with the rest of the gossips, complainers, etc. and I badly needed to curb that.

    What I find lacking the most is hands-on management of personnel. Family members are allowed to hire each other. Attendance policies are inconsistently applied leading to great resentment and dissatisfaction amongst those who adhere to the rules. There is no back-up system in place for extended absences so when someone in an essential position, like the business manager, is in the hospital, staff members are reduced to telling people on the phone “Sorry, we can’t help you. There is no one here who can answer your question” and checks bounce. This has all happened in the past two months.

    Do I blame the pastor who was transferred here a year ago? I can’t say I do. He is dealing with a 3 parish consolidation, a crushing debt load and angry parishioners. He had every right to expect that the staff who had been in place for 10 years would be of great help and support for him. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

    These problems did not develop overnight but when I confronted our previous pastor about what was happening his answer was “You have to work with who you have”. I told him, no you don’t Father, you’re the boss and you can staff the office with people that support you and the parish.

    I can’t fault the pastors who didn’t sign on to be CEOs – but that is what they are. What is being done to prepare these men to manage an organization? How many problems have been created and exacerbated for the Church at large because of this lack of management skills?

    1. JT,

      I too am an MBA working for the Church. I was working as a DRE for 6 years (I had to finally leave because I couldn’t make it work financially) and now as a parish office manager. I couldn’t agree with your comments more. So many pastors have not been prepared to be CEOs and some resist the idea all together because they don’t want the Church to seem like a business. I have been wishing that the diocese would devote more time to ongoing formation for them in this area. I wonder if they see the need. Right now I’m trying to assist my pastor in better personnel management. It’s slow going, but fortunately he’s one of the ones who wants to be better.

  9. Thank you Msgr Pope! You speak to my hope and my hurt in working in the Church. ” Quem tibi ibimus”

  10. If I never read anything but Holy Scripture and your blog, Msgr, I would be doing pretty well.

  11. “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” all existed before 1962. Some graduates from our Catholic high school in the 1940s and 1950s married, sired children and divorced; some later remarried, etc. This behavior was NOT invented post V-II.
    My BW and I started praying a rosary together after a dance (or a basketball game) when HS seniors, while walking to a busline or waiting for the bus. This did not immunize us to temptation after marriage, but praying together seemed to bind us closer together, each time.
    Now retired we try to attend Mass daily. We pray for our children: the oldest (ordained more than 20 years) on Monday, second child and her family on Tuesday, third child & family on Wednesday. On Thursday we pray for a conversion experience for 4th child, who stopped practicing the Faith while in college. I visualize God as a fisherman, who has this child hooked, but the line is wrapped around logs or rocks. “Please, Lord, reel him in!”
    We don’t know what temptations and trials our 4 living children and 12 grandkids – mostly adult – are subject to;
    We add certain other relatives and some in our parish who have asked for prayer.
    And the parish isn’t perfect – some other volunteers can be a pain from time to time. Some people have trouble with the pastor, dispute his decisions or approaches, etc. So what else is new?
    Frequent prayer, including prayer for those people with whom we have problems, is recommended.

  12. How Providential!

    After working in the business world and dealing with lies, nepotism, deception, and talking about money *all* the time (amongst other things) I finally got a coveted job working for the Church in an administrative office. I thought I would be free (I’m idealistic) — I even looked forward to signing my e-mails with “God bless.” Well, I’ve never been treated so poorly by the people I serve. I’ve been sworn at and yelled at by the lay people we employ. My colleagues still can’t believe I got the job without knowing anyone (and I have strived for years and years for a Church job because I LOVE my faith, I want to serve, and I want to apply my skills, use my talents, and apply my academic training {from Yale}). And the gossip leaves me more tired at the end of the day than the work. What makes matters worse is that we are blessed to have a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, and yet these bad things continue.

    I don’t want to sound negative, but I was getting very discouraged and this started to seep into my personal faith. I even started skipping Mass! So this post helped realign my view — I jumped into the confessional and am starting again. I turn my back as much as I can on the bad and focus on the good. I remind myself to be a light and a joy to these people in hopes they might want to change. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. And, as discouraged as I get, I still thank God for this job and ask Him to help me serve.

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for your writing. And for the prayer. It’s on my computer where I can read it during the daily struggles and re-focus on why I am doing this job.

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