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

Blog-11-9As 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.

But along with that love comes, at times, disappointment, hurt, or even disillusionment. Perhaps these feelings result from issues in the wider Church such as the betrayal of sexual abuse by clergy, the lack of courage and leadership from some bishops and priests, the scandal of dissent at the highest levels; the breakdown of discipline, and the strange severity of response to some infractions contrasted with the almost total laxity or oversight in the face of others.

Perhaps they are just the result of basic problems that are found in any gathering of human beings: gossip, hurtful actions, hypocrisy, power struggles, wrongful priorities, favoritism, and injustice.

And while these things happen everywhere, many somehow hope there will be fewer of them in the Church. Some who have come to work for the Church began by thinking, “What a wonderful thing it will be to work for the Church (instead of out in the cutthroat business world)!” Maybe they envisioned a place where people prayed together and supported each other more. Perhaps they thought the Church was 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 as hospitals tend to attract sick people, so the Church attracts sinners and those who struggle. Jesus was 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).

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 found to be drinking on the job, or when certain members of the choir are making anything but harmony, or when some favorite 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 deep disillusionment, I keep a little prayer card near my desk. I sometimes read it for my own benefit and sometimes share it with those who feel discouraged at what happens (or doesn’t happen) in the Church. At critical moments, I pull 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; it recalls that great love often generates the deep disappointment, but that in the end love still abides.

Consider, then, 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. In the end, though, love is what remains. Here are the words I often share with those who are 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.

(from The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto)

Yes, where else would I go?

10 Replies to “Love and Lament Alike – A Brief Reflection for All Who Care About the Church”

  1. It is indeed painful when the people who are supposed to lift one up and bring one up nearer to GOD cause us to be wary of relationship and make us distance ourselves from anyone whom we feel might hurt us. Yes, many a times we were burned, feelings that you want to return to your mother’s womb. But it is a challenge, an opportunity that could bring the best in us by suffering and offering the pains for those who know not GOD. These are occasions that could make or break us into saints or otherwise. LORD, let me just see YOUR Face during these moments that I may learn to love like YOU. How can I say, I love YOU Who I have yet to see when those I can see I cannot love? I would be a liar then, wouldn’t I?

    1. I have such a hard time seeing God’s Face in these moments. The closest charitable response I have is to offer up my suffering for their souls. Any suggestions?

      1. So you had suffered too. Praise be to GOD for HE is giving us the grace to mature in the spirit. Go to the Perpetual Adoration Chapel and look intently on the Monstrance where the Eucharist is and then meditate on the discourse above italized by the Monsignor from the writings of Carlo Carreto from ‘The GOD Who Comes’, read it once for the mind and then read it twice for the heart. Look at JESUS on The Cross and how HE suffered for us who have the same faults as those who hurt us, then we can realize HIS Mercy and enter into the realm of HIS Grace. In prayer then we can see the face of whoever hurt us slowly looking like The Face of JESUS for the one who hurt is a son of GOD, too. GOD be with you in this meditation exercise. It had helped me, I believe it will help you. YHWH SHALOM.

      2. I heard this priest say once that when he finds himself in that situation he prays “Jesus I can’t love this person as I would or should. You love him for me this time.”–or something to that effect.

  2. Amen Msgr. Yes painful but it helps me to be persistent in my prayer. Since I’ve been volunteering with WIN specifically with the Homeless Projects, I see broken people from Politicians caring more about their positions and votes, to Managers afraid of losing contracts to Residents trying to hold on to what little dignity they have. I see the same in my fellow Church people & I also see the love they have for the Church. God is love & I ask him everyday to help all of his people especially in the Church to exude that love more. Thank You for this prayer Msgr.

  3. If I dare … yes I shall;
    We were made to love and be loved. God loves us and yearns for a return of our love for Him. From the saintly to the lowest of all sinners.
    Parents love children and children love parents.
    Spouses love spouses in a flow that goes both ways.
    However such a two way flow of love doesn’t seem to always be the case but, if it were to always be the case – would we not have made a new Garden of Eden around us.
    I think so.

  4. It’s not the “sinners” that engender irritation, disappointment, or deep disillusionment — I’m one of them after all, and so are my friends and family — whether they admit they are or not. Besides, I understand that they act and think more out of ignorance than malice, they are more wounded than bad. They should be treated with mercy.

    No, it is not them that have provoked new-found irritation and disappointment. Rather, it is those people who would take us all back to the 1970s, back into the wilderness and desert, out of some ill-considered notion that “people are more important than ideas” or that there is some dicotomy between mercy and the truth of Catholic teaching, i.e. doctrine, that promotes this concept of being “pastoral” which is really rather condescending and is all too happy to leave me going in the wrong direction so long as everything is warm and fuzzy. They are the ones who are disheartening and saddened. People want and need real, substantial food. People are starving and they are serving up fluff — and to add to our chagrin, they should know better. Many of them are, after all, successors of the Apostles.

    There is a reason that so many people fell away from the faith in the 1970s. Now, having come home, having reverted, we look around and can only say to ourselves, “been there, done that, no thank you.”

  5. Monsignor, I don’t know what I would do without you. I always, read, and see, and hear just what I need to. Thank you. I pray for you every day and have been for years now. Love everyone like God loves us.

  6. The analogy I like for the Church right now is that of an electric blanket covering the earth because the Church in her life on earth really does employ the principle of subsidiarity. This was brought home to me by Catholic apologists pointing out that the budget of the Vatican or Vatican City is only about 300 million dollars a year.–much less that a dollar per Catholic on the planet. The Church really relies on human nature and Grace building on human nature to carry out her mission. When people learn about the Pope, they usually, myself included, fail to see how much the Pope depends on several billion Catholics who never have or will get any face time. In this analogy the Pope would be electric cord or something like that. The cord reaches to heaven. Amoeba or algae like, even.

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