Sunday, July 15, 2012

Believing in the Church?

This morning, I received an email from a great young guy with whom I have had several conversations about joining the Jesuits. He is faithful, smart, funny, and seems to be motivated wholly by a desire to serve Christ and His Church.

So why isn't he a Jesuit? He writes:
In fact my love for the Society and my passion to serve Christ still burns deeply. Still, there are issues within the Church which make it hard to wholly commit to the vocation...Sometimes I feel as if I'm starting from scratch, constantly needing to reaffirm my faith in the Church and all its possibilities (and challenges).
His sentiments, I suspect, are not foreign to many people. How many of us want to believe in the Church, want to be faithful, but feel beaten down and discouraged? How many of us continue to bristle at the lack of accountability assumed by bishops for sex abuse, for a lack of financial transparency, for an apparent inability to see that the politics of the Catholic Church need not align with a party but, rather, transcend partisan lines? How many of us are not necessarily ashamed to be Catholics but feel deep sorrow and shame because our Church seems lately to have a knack for failing to live up to its prophetic call?  

I often wonder why people stay in the Church. I wonder why people are received annually into it. I wonder why good women and men want to be married in it. I wonder why sincere, good-hearted people wish to pledge their lives in service to it as vowed religious and in priesthood. I wonder how people believe in the Church. 

The failure and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church - only too gladly brought out in the front pages of newspapers - should force each of us to consider seriously the question: Can I believe in the Church today? 

The first thing to realize is that we believe within the Church. Herbert McCabe observed that "The Church is quite plainly corrupt." Our first leader, Peter, did a bang-up job on the night Jesus was betrayed: he denied Christ three times. In the two thousand years since then, such betrayals have been multiplied countlessly. Yet, we believe that our human frailty does not and, indeed, cannot nullify God's invitation to friendship and Christ's call to discipleship. As often as we screw up, we can receive the strength to get up and move forward...and this we do together.

To this young man, and to many, I simply wish to say that there will never be a time when you do not have to reaffirm you faith in the Church, within the Church. When you go to Mass on a Sunday, look around you - each person there has chosen to be there. Each person brings his or her own life to Mass, hoping to hear a word of salvation, to feel a glimmer of hope in the Good News, to satisfy the deep hunger at the Lord's Table. Each one of us has fallen, has failed, has made a mess of things...yet we keep coming back, we keep getting up, we keep trying.

A baseball player with a 0.300 average makes contact with the ball 3 out of 10 times. It means that even our best baseball players fail more often than they succeed. Yet they continue to play, they continue to work at the game, they continue to show up. I have no way of calculating the Church's average, but I'd be willing to say that it tends to get things right more than it gets it wrong...even if it seems that when we get it wrong, we're dropping easy balls in the ninth inning of the World Series!

My own crisis of confidence took place a number of years ago. Galled by the hypocrisy and mendacity, I had to question how I could even consider being a member of it, let alone giving my life in service of it. A wise figure - recently gone home to God - asked simply: Well, you're a hypocrite, too, aren't you? At you're in good company. So it is that I cast my lot with the hypocrites, the liars, the failures. I stand with them and I try, each day, to accept the grace to be worthy of the word disciple. I believe (with)in the Church because in my sisters and brothers gathered at the Lord's Table, I see companions in our earthly pilgrimage.

We believe (with)in the Church because we know that we can't do it all on our own. Just as one player cannot carry a team, one pilgram alone cannot the journey make. It is a daily choice, a daily response, a daily re-commitment of oneself to the Way we have been called to live. The road is often steep, poorly illuminated, and filled with various and sundry characters (usually other pilgrims!). Yet we walk along this road because we have been invited to do so, together.




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