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Love and Lament Alike – A Brief Reflection for All Who Care About the Church

July 30, 2018

As a priest and pastor I work very closely with others: clergy, religious, laity who work for the Church, and laity who volunteer. We all work for the Church because we love her and her people.

At times, though, there is disappointment, hurt, or even disillusionment. Perhaps these feelings result from issues in the wider Church: sexual abuse by clergy, the lack of courage and leadership from some bishops and priests, the scandal of dissent at the highest levels, questionable partnerships with anti-life and anti-Catholic organizations, the breakdown of discipline, and the strange severity of response to some infractions contrasted with the almost total laxity in the face of others. Perhaps they are the result of local problems found in any group of human beings: gossip, hurtful actions, hypocrisy, power struggles, misplaced priorities, favoritism, and injustice.

While these things happen everywhere, many hope that there will be fewer occurrences in the Church. Some who come to work for the Church begin by thinking, How wonderful it will be to work for the Church instead of out in the cutthroat business world! Maybe they envision a place where people pray together and support each other more. Perhaps they think the Church will be a place with less competition and strife.

Alas, such hopes are usually dashed quickly. We are, after all, running a hospital of sorts; and just as hospitals tend to attract the sick, so the Church attracts sinners and those who struggle. Jesus was often found in strange company, so much so that the Pharisees were scandalized. He rebuked them by 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).

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

For all these sorts of situations that engender irritation, disappointment, or disillusionment, I keep a little prayer card near my desk. Sometimes I read it for my own benefit and sometimes I share it with those who feel discouraged at what happens (or doesn’t happen) in the Church. It is a beautiful mediation; it recalls that although great love often generates the deep disappointment, in the end love still abides.

Consider, then, the following words. They are perhaps over-the-top in places, but love has its excesses. Take these words as a kind of elixir that speaks to the pain that love can cause.

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.

(from The God Who Comes, by Carlo Carretto)

Yes, where else would I go?

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Comments (10)

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  1. Jacquie says:

    Our Church has survived many scandals and will see many more before the end of times, but Our Lord will always be with us. So we believe.

    Thank you, Father, for addressing the present turmoil in such a truthful and realistic way. In the end, each one of us is accountable to God, individually and separately. We, the lay people in the pews are aware of these basic facts. How come those who should know better, certain priests, bishops, cardinals, don’t seem able to grasp these simple truths? Have they no fear of the Lord?

  2. Just A Sinner says:

    Firstly I wish to thank God for answering my spoken and unspoken prayers and needs in this posting, and you Monsignor for writing the post itself! God does indeed use others to speak through.

    Yesterday I was indeed pondering all the difficulties in my own parish I have and am continuing to experience, and what you have written above describes it exactly! I haven’t known whether to stay or go, but the post above has given me the direction I needed. It has also given me hope and encouragement to stay on at my parish and try to serve God in whatever way he needs me to and to hopefully grow in sanctity by trying to do His Will and not follow my own.

    Praise be to God for answering me, still loving and caring and guiding me, though wretched sinner I be.

  3. Darren says:

    As a Catholic, I can honestly answer that you could go to the Orthodox and be, arguably, safer in so many ways.

    I realise that many of my fellow Latin-Rite Catholics will jump on this comment and start with all the same old arguments which stem from an ecclesiology that is erroneous, coupled with a complete ignorance of the full scope of patristic teaching and the theology of the East (both Catholic and Orthodox which was still practiced and taught in the West until relatively recently – pre-Vatican II). Please: don’t bother.

    My point here is not to highlight the fact that there is an ‘alternative’ (not that I would describe it that way as I regard all sincere followers of Christ as a part of the Church – we know where the Church is, but not where it is not), but that, as I stated at the beginning of this comment, in spite of that I am still Catholic.

    I absolutely believe that the Orthodox Churches have preserved the deposit of faith where Catholicism has erred, and that it is very, very much harder to work out ones salvation within the Catholic Church than in the Orthodox. This is mainly for the very straightforward reason that Catholicism has become a stranger to itself. Its adherents now, for the most part, cannot even ‘read’ the symbols of it’s own faith and identity (hence the abandonment of them as ‘irrelevant’ or ‘meaningless’).

    I’m not even going to begin to equate what passes today for ‘liturgy’ in Catholicism compared to the Divine Liturgy offered by the Orthodox. I spoke to a man recently who converted to Catholicism, at great personal cost, from Protestantism about 15 years ago. His precise words were ‘If you wanted to destroy the Church, you would do precisely what the Church is doing to itself at this moment in time.’ As a lifelong Catholic, I was just amazed that he hadn’t realized that before converting 15 years ago, as it’s been this bad my entire lifetime (I was born in the late 60’s)

    I absolutely hate the Catholic Church, and yet I love her more dearly than anything on this earth simultaneously – it makes me feel utterly insane. What is it that I love? I have no idea because I can’t think of a single redeeming feature (No – not the Eucharist. I could receive the Eucharist at the hands of the Orthodox; it is not that!) I don’t trust the Church or her shepherds (who, in my experience, couldn’t collectively care for a goldfish), and I want to have nothing to do with the utter madness and downright lies spewing forth from the Pope and all those who surround him. And yet I will not hear a word said against the Church by anyone, and leap to her defence without fail.

    Catholicism is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, and I hate it and love it and am driven to distraction by it.

    Why can’t I leave when I don’t even think it’s the best place to be for my own spiritual good and those whom I love? Why?

    Is this making any sense to you, Fr? I hope so, because I can’t make any sense of it myself!

    God bless you.

    • Stephen says:

      Darren, That’s easy, you don’t leave and you defend the Church, because you have made yourself pope!

  4. Rudy says:

    Darren, you are so mis guided. You are confusing the beautiful liturgy of the east and yes the novus Oreo of the West. But the liturgy dose not the Church make. There is so much more. The eastern church accepts divorce, many of the first heresies came out of the east. And you have many Luke warm orthodox as you do Catholics. Yes this pope has spread confusion, but not heresy, and I agree he is listening to the wrong bishops, but we have to trust in God. Although I love the eastern liturgy and wish the mass would be more like that; I would never leave the fullness of the truth which is the Catholic Church. And really it is up to each one fo us to make it holier by being holier. And we need to now more than ever pray for the clergy, especially for this Pope.

    • Stephen says:

      Rudy, It is better to first consider that the Pope is offering wisdom (that we need to understand through prayer and humility) than react thinking he is sowing confusion. For example, many thought Pope Francis was crazy for saying truth could be an idol (a false god). This is a simple concept but many could not understand. We have made an idol of truth if we feel we have achieved God’s grace based on our knowledge of truth (scripture) and pious expressions without expressing love and mercy. The prideful cannot escape their own confusion. How can a pope do better than the words of Jesus, rejected by most?

      Stephen

  5. Nathan says:

    I want to know if Jesus Himself abused me. I was told by a bishop I was excommunicated automatically for complaining about my abuse. Jesus himself approved of my abuse. It was nothing. It was not abuse apparently..

    I want to know if this is the case. If Jesus approved of my abuse He is a monster. I am so very tired of being gaslighted.

    No one was on my side.

  6. Nathan says:

    What am I to do?? I know what happened. I know what happened to me.

    If Jesus is as people say He is, then Jesus does not care about me and He truly is vile.

    So that is why I have left Christianity.

  7. Nathan says:

    The Church destroyed my whole life–my whole life. I have seen with my own eyes how abusive it is. The closest analogy to me is the Church (and perhaps Jesus) is a psychopath.

    To say that the Church does good things too and nobody is perfect misses the whole point. The tone is off by a mile.

  8. Nathan says:

    I wish I would have just been killed. If a serial killer had stabbed me, I would be dead in a few minutes.

    The Church killed me inside but left me living on the outside. A certain bishop, and a certain Latin Mass loving parish all killed me. And they turned my whole life into a living hell. I hate everything. I hate the Church and I hate Jesus.

    No one (who is a practicing Catholic) even wants to call my abuse as abuse. If this is what Jesus would say than he is so very evil and I hate him and I want to die.