Monday, March 11, 2013

Why is it that...?

Can someone explain to me why it is that, when I'm gathered in rather polite company, someone (usually after a few drinks) leans in, points toward me, and begins (what is almost certain to be) a harangue with the line, "You know, the Church needs to..."

Insert here your list of agenda items that the Church "needs to":

  • ordain women and married men
  • be relevant 
  • relax on the issue of abortion (Sort of an "Awww, geee, I guess it's okay" stance?)
  • be nice to nuns
  • let people use condoms and artificial birth control (this always conjures up an image of a bishop standing in one's bedroom, withholding the Trojans or denying the pill)
  • get in touch with the needs of real people
  • Do something about sex abuse (No argument here, but I have to admit that a great deal has been done: most of the cases we hear of in the news are decades old)
  • be more inclusive (this is a catch-all term, I find)
When I hear "You know, the Church needs..." my stomach instinctively tightens and my mind wanders off to its happy place where I can be untroubled. The smile on crosses my face as the person excitedly tells me about "the Church" never betrays that, on the inside, I'm totally checked out.

Condescending? A bit. Simply for this reason: I have no idea what people are talking about when they say "The Church" as though there exists some monolithic building out there. Truth be told, there is no such thing as "The Church" over-and-against the people who receive the Gospel in every generation, over-and-against the faithful who attempt to live out their call to discipleship as sinners in in a broken world. 

In short, all the things that people say "the Church" fails are are precisely the things that we fail at, in various ways. If the Church isn't relevant, or inclusive, or nice, or whatever it's because we as a Christian people tend not to be relevant, inclusive, or nice, whatever. 

There's an Irish joke that starts, "How do I get to Dublin" and the response comes back, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here." Do you see the joke: there's no place else to start but here, where one stands, if one wishes to get anywhere. There's no point in dieting "after I finish this cake" because there'll always be another cake to devour before the diet starts. Likewise it does no good to say "the Church needs to..." if we, ourselves, are not willing to be the change we wish to see. 

I'm far from good at this. Despite my best efforts and sincerest intentions, I am pretty frequently mean, petty, obnoxious, mean-spirited, competitive, and irritable. I can be exclusive with whom I associate, I can deride those with whom I disagree, I can mock those whose opinions differ from mine, I can dismiss those who may sincerely be seeking after the truth simply because it doesn't fit into my schema and my zone of comfort. In short, I can be a huge jerk. 

Reading other Catholic blogs, or Christian blogs, whether they are liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional, I have a feeling that I'm not alone in this. 

We will never see a change in "the Church" if we don't start at the ground-level by responding to the Holy Spirit's invitation to follow the Lord more closely. We are the Church, called to be a light to the nations, a sign of contradiction to a sinful culture, a people of hope walking together toward the promised land. 
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