Monday, November 07, 2011

Loving the Church

I have the habit of reading two books simultaneously: one book in the morning (generally something spiritual) and, for bedtime reading, something a bit heftier. Right now my bedtime reading is Peter Geach's God & The Soul  and my morning reading is The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis.

This last week, one of my students raised the critique that he didn't want to be a member of the Catholic Church because it was hypocritical. I was sort of shocked by this, given that I thought it wholly obvious that the Church is so often hypocritical that it seems as though its hypocrisy should simply be taken for granted.

The last few days have shown up a great deal of institutional hypocrisy. We've watched as the drama of the Texas Judge who beat his daughter unfolded; Penn State University is reeling after the revelations of sex abuse and attempts to cover it up have come to light. Even the Boy Scouts have had to face the accusation, if not the revelation, that it has concealed the abuse of a minor within its charge. From one standpoint, it's tempting to say, "See! There are other hypocritical and corrupt organizations out there...why don't we pick on them? Leave off on the Catholics for a bit, there's plenty of corruption out there to sensationalize!"

Even if this were true, it does not change the fact that the Church has messed up in the past and it has squandered the trust placed in it by many. Modifying slightly Lewis's own works from The Four Loves, one might even say that the Catholic Church must write
...the full confession by the [Catholic Church] of the [Catholic Church's] specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery. Large areas of "the World" will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch. (Moloch being associated with child sacrifice)
With courage and honesty, the Church needs to take ownership of its past. We have done great and mighty things in proclaiming God's Kingdom but, as any human organization, we've made some huge errors. Our credibility rests on our being able to take ownership of the past and show how we have learned from our mistakes so that we may go forward.

When the student asked why it is that someone could love the Church, I could say only, "I love the Church not because she's perfect, but because she's mine." I learned to pray in the Church, I learned how to surrender myself to the Mystery of Creation, how to find strength in times of turmoil, how to find comfort in sorrow, how to give thanks in times of joy, how to be a human being. In the ten years since the clergy sex abuse cases came to national attention in Boston, I have seen the Church at her worst...and as a member of the Society of Jesus, I have seen her also at her best. Even when I wanted to pull out my remaining hair in frustration, I have always been able to return to my steadfast belief that this is Christ's Church and the reason I get frustrated is because I do love it. If I have learned nothing else these years, it is how to have patience with what it is that one loves.

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