Monday, October 13, 2014

When the Face of Christ is Not Perfect

Recently, a synod of bishops prayed and talked and brainstormed in Rome. That's really all it was but, from the hysteria within Catholic circles I'm seeing today on social media, one would think the Church that Christ created had just died.

It's heartbreaking to Catholics who care because the Church has not died; it is very much alive and bears all the growing pains of a growing adolescent.

Speaking of adolescents...

I wrote this blog piece after my son's summer wedding, a wedding that was overdue in some ways and quickened in others. I wrote it quickly...with no idea of what a Synod was much less that the Catholic Church would have one in the near future. I was too busy living the life of a Catholic in the 21st century.

But due to privacy concerns and because I dreaded labeling anyone in my family...or giving anyone else the right to "label" a member of my family..., I left this post in my draft file and sat on it, like a mother hen, protective of the souls and lives placed in her keeping. It was my own personal prayer of thanksgiving for how our Church opened up to my family when our sins left us open to scrutiny and scandal.

I wrote this piece and this one and this one as I struggled with my own imperfect Catholic family. A family of sinners and doubts and questions and failings. There's just no end to the imperfectness that greets you at my door. Not that any of it surprised me, mind you. We all have families and the hurt and pain that sin causes is prevalent and all too familiar.

Then Monday evening, following an afternoon spent under a rainy-drippy patio rooftop, strewn toys, and day-old hashed pumpkins; I was compelled to send my daughter-in-law the article I offer below. I wanted their permission to share it. I didn't want them thinking they were my guinea pigs on parade. But there is responsibility to the whole of God's creation and we have a responsibility to speak up. As I told her, some are called to a sacred trust. But I want my children to trust me. Still I am not one to shy away from a challenge.

The hurt voices of people on social media today who feel the Church is becoming too lenient in her teachings guided me. It was time to say Welcome into my home. This is what the face of the Catholic Church looks like when it opens its doors to those who don't know the Church, haven't been raised in the Church, have turned away from the Church, have gotten angry with the Church. It doesn't have to be that way.

It just doesn't.

Of course they might choose differently, but what if we tried a little harder. You know, walk the walk instead of just talk the talk.

This is not a media piece. It isn't a columnist piece. It isn't a cardinal's piece. It isn't anything at all official or important. I'm probably over-defending it...but mothers are fiercely protective and I don't put my child and his laundry on display without warning the reader of who I am.

And so...what I wrote months before the Synod began...what I live today...and what I believe can guide people back to the faith without the stern, hell-and-brimstone mentality of past generations...and because my son and daughter-in-law read it, approved it, and gave their permission for me to share it with own feeble attempt at what I think the Synod of the Family is addressing...what I think Pope Francis is calling us to in the great work of Mercy.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

The Catholic Church keeps getting a bad rap, doesn't it; but people love to criticize something that is so radically different from their own way of thinking.

There is the media and there is the liberal public who thinks they know the truths of the Church. {Not many do, but at least they're *thinking* ;-) }

There are so many reasons. So many reasons to hate what we don't understand. So many reasons to learn what we don't understand.

And there are people who have been hurt by people in the Church and a Church that has been hurt by her people.

No matter who does what, rejection and indifference are the most hurtful things of all. The Church speaks tough love and people reject her. People sin and think the Church rejects them.

It's the same old tug-a-war between teenager and parent.

The door slams. Dialogue is silenced. Assumptions are made. Gossip is vicious. Feelings are hurt. Bitterness gnaws open and raw.

It's all a loud, ugly, vicious cycle.

Not of God.
Not God at all.

We are the church and the Church is there for us. She is still a young church if you look at the age of all things. She is a message sent by God to save His people. So while God (nor His message) never changes, the Church develops because the Church is a very living, breathing, existing entity.

We are Church.

This is certainly not the family my husband and I gave birth to. Our family has developed. It's been painful, fretful, and HUGE, in so many ways. But we are who we are today because we allowed God's church to develop through us rather than outside of us.

{My! when kids grow up, bless their souls, they sure do grow up!}
Like a developing baby we are swaddled from our mother's womb...holy, flawless, unblemished, underdeveloped, yet whole. Through life we this young church has...slowly, alarmingly quick, awkward yet self-assured, flawed, hurt, abused, ridiculed, blemished. We are the Church. And we are assured that someone awaits us at the gate.

Not in our time, in His time.

All in His time. Not in our flawed infinity of starts and stops, hiccups, beginnings and ends, clocks and hourglasses. His time is not our time.

We are not encouraging sinners to continue sinning. No. We are meeting them at the gates and showing them where wisdom lies, where mercy serves, where sinners are welcome, where baggage is dropped, where sins are forgiven, where life is renewed.

We prefer to do this through the Church Christ began.

As one priest told me (chances are he was verbalizing a sinner declared saint), the Church is not a country club; it's a hospital. Healthy people don't go to hospitals, sick people do.

The Church had to recently sit down and ask what they are to do with all these wretched souls it has on its hands and at its hospital doorsteps. There's a reason for this sickness. Had there been no bad catechesis before Vatican II then things would have been handled very differently post-Vatican II. But there goes that baby spitting up again and arguing and throwing temper tantrums.

What's a parent to do?

Holy Mother is trying to help parents answer that. The Synod is basically discussing the challenges families are facing in today's world. It's trying to help parents answer what they are to do with their divorced/remarried children, their prodigal children, their wayward children, their unbelievers, their cohabitating children, their unbaptized grandchildren, etc.

And really not what we are to do because those children certainly have freewill and, often, underdeveloped consciences, but, rather, how we are to treat them and how we can serve them better.

She is not saying the sin is not there and not real and deadly but how do we serve those children better? We have told our children for years that these sins are against God's commandment, against His direction for a better life for ourselves and our children, against the Ten Commandments. Like many people before us, they turn a deaf ear at times.

The Church, like any good parent, sometimes feels the need to step in yet again and guide, counsel, and discipline her misguided child to a new level of maturity and wisdom. Holy Mother Church helps to develop us in all things.

And we can never forget that America is a small section of the overall Catholic population and we should in no way try to refine Catholicism under our terms, our rules, our laws. The Catholic Church and Synod serves the people in third-world countries as rightly and justly as it serves us in prosperous America. The Synod changes nothing, except to make us better aware of how we are serving others through our words and our actions.

The sins don't change, the sinners can...and should...and do.

Perhaps the ones objecting to the Synod and its call have raised their children wiser and holier and better than my husband and I did. They have done outstanding work and I am in awe.

But please bear with me...a sinner in your mist...the face of a Catholic raising many Catholics in today's scandalous world. A warning...we don't look like what some Catholics say we should look like.

I'm thankful for priests who care...who reach out...who talk...who guide...who prepare...who mentor...who welcome the imperfect Catholic as well as the attempting-to-be-Catholic. For priests who strive to be the face of the Catholic Church in a world that makes it pretty much impossible.

It isn't about us at all; it's about seeing God's mercy, not our miseries.

This is the face of Christ's Church.

I'm grateful to priests who reach out to the woman at the well and who don't mind touching the lepers...that would be me. Priests who counsel and heal without worrying about the voices of the townspeople in the background. Priests who speak to the individual couple before turning their attention back to the insensitive crowd.

For a priest who, like a proper father, reprimands, but who does not flog. A priest who meets them face to face, eyeball to eyeball, who guides rather than reacts. Who opens the door of his office and welcomes them into a deeper understanding of the Church's teaching. A priest who reprimands without shouting religion and explains understandingly, whether they hear him or not. A life mentor who blesses rather than curses.

My family and I are the face of Catholics in the world today. We're sorry if we offend anyone. We're sorry if we are not your version of "happily ever after."

We're trying. We're trying very hard. And we love God, but we keep messing up.

How do you put up with us?

We keep sinning and we rub shoulders with sinners. We take unwed pregnant mothers into our home, even when they are carrying our grandchild. Especially when they are carrying our grandchild!

And our Catholicity is questioned, analyzed, scoured. Thankfully not by the people in our home church. They know us. They know we're trying as hard as they are. And they have their own hidden crosses.

I'm sorry but we cannot worry about limited theories and righteous expectations. We're too busy trying to feed, water, and find our own meek sheep.

We go to church every Sunday, dragging open those heavy, creaking doors, hoping our neighbors will smile at us and embrace our weak attempts rather than grimacing at our squeaking entrance, rather than rejecting the reality of our soiled hands and skeptical souls. We keep entering those doors that rust and squeak because behind them a Mother Church will anoint us with live-saving oils and the rust and squeaks will lessen if only we keep walking through those heavy doors.

This is the face of God. He is alive and hurting and swollen with our infidelities. And still He breathes mercy and compassion and life on us. Always the welcoming and forgiving Father, if we're only brave enough to keep stepping through those doors...those heavy doors that seem to block our entrance but are open...always open.

I turn to a God who is bigger than myself and a Church who loves and beckons my developing children into the fold better than I ever could.

1 comment:

  1. Cay, the picture of the couple and the priest just brings tears to my eyes. My goodness, she looks so beautiful!


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