Tonight at CWCO I posed a version of this question to Mark Shea in his “How Faith Connects Everything” chat. His response was less than satisfying. (In essence: “Get over it. We’re all part of one big family.”)
I could understand where he was coming from. No doubt he has heard questions like mine posed dozens of times in the past six months or so, and he is understandably tired of the whole subject. Even so, my eyes stung at the disconnect, the abrupt dismissal. Yes, the Church is like a large family, where joys and slights alike abound. And when faith is lost between two members of the Body of Christ, finding the path of reconciliation is not easy. I guess this is what I had hoped to hear … an acknowledgment of the pain and frustration. And an affirmation that, at the end of the day, offering that pain back to God is to choose a greater good: reconcilitation and unity.
Sadly, this difficult path of relinquishment is too often the “narrow road,” one we have a tendency to avoid because it is too painful, because it violates our inner sense of justice. After this kind of disillusionment, it can be tempting to simply walk away. (I spent most of my childhood moving from church to church.) And like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the evil one separates the weak from the pack … and drives him farther and farther way, to devour at his leisure.
These past few days I’ve been exchanging notes with one such person. This Bible school classmate — a passionate Evangelical with Catholic roots — quoted chapter and verse of what she felt were wrongs done by representatives of the Church to her and her family. They don’t need those “man made traditions” any more …
- Not the teaching authority established by Christ (We prefer to interpret the Bible for ourselves, and ignore thousands of years of Scripture scholarship!)
- Not the graces of the sacraments … or the perseverance of the Christian life. (No empty works for us, so long as we keep praying!)
- Not the treasury of wisdom handed down for centuries from the saints (who never really knew Jesus, don’t you know… not like WE do).
- Not the spiritual safeguards from heresy, or the visible witness of unity.
No … “All I need is Jesus!” (Kind of like a teenager in the throes of puppy love, who in her quest for independence from her parents willfully disregards the vital connection between love and family.)
These kind of desertions and estrangements are all too common. Recently it happened again with the the Legionnaires of Christ. People are hurt and angry. It’s tragic … and yet, not unprescedented. The Church is a hospital for sinners … and it should come as no surprise to us when even those in leadership fall — or when they shy away from the light of truth. Truth can be painful, humiliating … and sometimes it takes time (and an extra shot of courage) to face it.
Other times, what is needed most is … compassion (the flip side of justice). Having compassion for another’s shortcomings (even when it’s simply an aversion to the hard truth) can make the difference between someone reconciling — or walking away.
In John 6:62-17, we read that even among Jesus and His apostles, people were sometimes put off by His words of truth (and the bad example of His representatives).
[Jesus said,] “… The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. … As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
From the beginning, the hard truths and the Judases created rifts within the Church. Interestingly enough, Jesus did not run after those who chose to leave. “Wait, wait! That’s not what I meant!” God is love … and that love never violates free will. (Parents of teenagers can relate to this — the anxious waiting for a child who has chosen to separate himself or herself. We hope that teenager will choose to return to us — physically, emotionally, or both. But the choice is not ours alone.)
Sometimes, “to love” means “to wait.” Wait in hope. Wait in prayer. Wait in faith.
It is in this context that Father Berg’s letter (which I found on Patrick Madrid’s blog) about the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ is most poignant … and most clearly a cause of hope.
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