Friday, April 30, 2010

faith fridays: grappling with my relationship with my church

“How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too — where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ's church. No, I am old enough, I know better.” - Carlo Carretto

I must confess, whenever evils within the Catholic Church rise to the surface, as they have so loudly recently, I go to Mass the following Sunday expecting the pews to be empty, and I’m always shocked on some level to see that they’re not – that the church is as full as ever. And there I am among those who have returned, clamoring back into the arms of the one who has so often sheltered me, knowing there are still, and always will be, evils lurking somewhere within.

How can a church be holy and still house such wrongs?

It seems impossible at times to sort through, yet the answer is very simple. It comes down to this: the Church comprises both God and man, good and evil. This is true not only of the Catholic Church, but every church and every relationship that has ever existed and will exist. The Church teaches truth and offers guidance on how to achieve holiness, even though its members cannot possibly reach perfection in this life. She remains there for us as we reach toward what is good and pure and eternal, even while we move through our earthly lives of suffering and imperfection.

The above reflection by Carretto, shared with me by a fellow Catholic writer, describes well how many of today’s Catholics feel. We are weary, tired of feeling we must defend the Church we love, and yet we have no choice but to stay near Her, even while the dichotomies swirl around us. There is no other place for us to go.

I can’t help but relate this reflection to those other relationships in my life that are nearest and dearest to me, yet fraught with love-hate passion. I think back to when I was seven and feeling so severely misunderstood that I decided I must leave, must run away from the wretched place causing such turmoil within me. I put an apple and cheese and some crackers in a backpack and headed off into the Great Beyond. But just a few blocks down the road, in our town without a leash law, I was confronted with snarling dogs and forced to return to the place where, I stubbornly realized, I would be the safest and most loved, if not always completely understood.

"Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!"

I am thinking now of my almost-teen daughter, who is caught between wanting to do her own thing and realizing that if she does, she could compromise her well-being. It is a tenuous situation, that of a 12-year-old whose brain is complex enough to know a few important things but who is still not mature enough to go without her mother’s counsel. In one hour, she’ll tell me I am the worst mother in the world, and in the next, hand me a note that professes her love and sorrow over how she’s conducted herself in my presence. She frequently ping-pongs back and forth between emotional extremes, deficient in her ability to distinguish where hate ends and love begins. "I don't know what's come over me," she'll say, aching for reconciliation.

Humanity is what has come over her, of course. The interior battle of the soul, of right and wrong choices, is raging within her, as it rages in all of us every day of our lives.

"But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects."

Like a frustrated teen, it is so tempting to unleash our frustration in a single direction, at a single person, at a single entity, as the case may be. I am often the brunt of my daughter’s fury because I am the one who happens to be standing in the way of her wild will to do as she pleases and not consider the consequences. I'm a perfect target. Because of my love for her, I've set myself up.

Similarly, it has become easy, even popular, to cast stones at the Church for what “it” has done, while failing to examine our own sins and wounded-ness. It is easy, while trying to sort through true injustices, to not see the whole picture and discern where love might begin and hate end.

Certainly, the evil within our Church needs to be brought to light. But let us not, in our fury, as we examine the facts, forget to also examine the imperfections inside ourselves. And let us not forget that, like the loving mother whose arms are ready to receive back her disenchanted daughter, it’s quite possible that the one we so easily condemn could be the very one we most need, the one who is still best equipped to save us from ourselves.

Q 4 U: Where do you see yourself in your faith journey? As an innocent child, a rebellious teen or a wise adult?


Renee Schafer Horton said...

OUTSTANDING Roxanne. Very, very good. And your 12 year old? She doesn't know what has come over her - bless her heart, it is adolescence, the watertorture of growing up. :-). You both hang in there. Thanks again for this great post.

Laura Marcella said...

I think, too, that your daughter knows she'll always be welcomed back into your arms. That's why it's so simple to lash out at our mothers! Mom's unconditional love.

In the same way it's easy to condemn the church because we know it'll always be there for us no matter what we choose. Just like mothers.

Great post, Roxane!

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Roxane, this is very beautiful and it's close to my heart, as our church is also going through trouble. I'll tell you this, though. One strength that Catholics have in the Christian community is their ability to forgive the sins of the Church. In our denomination, people often do not have this forgiveness, and the result is that churches split very frequently over small disputes. That fracture is not good for the body.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Renee, it was good to see you here, and thanks for the nice words.

Laura, you're so right! It is very much this way. That is likely part of the reason we call our Church "She." :)

And Rosslyn, I'm glad to have thoughts from a Protestant sister in Christ here. Thanks for weighing in and reminding us Catholics of one of our greatest strengths. Unity is a goal ever before us and certainly gives us more strength in doing the work God has called us as Christians to carry out. We are kind of like a boisterous family in that way. There are many different personalities within our "home," and we don't always get along perfectly, but in the end, our goal is singular: salvation, for ourselves and one another.

kim said...

This is an excellant post! Your writing is an inspiration!

In answer to your question...I must be truthful. What a blessing there is in the learning of all the different stages, as I find myself flowing through them all through out my day.

Thanks again!

Fran said...

I do not even know where to begin, but the natural place to start will be thank you for this thoughtful post.

How this question has weighed on us who do stay and how I have struggled to answer it as well. It is like trying to grasp sand however; time I work to craft the words of explanation, I feel the grains slip from between my thumb and index finger.

Like you, I look around me and think about the very full church each week, which I have often expected to find empty.

Rosslyn's point about unity is well taken by me and I am grateful to have read it here.

So much to say and so hard to say it. You have done it beautifully here Roxane along with Carlo Carretto (who I needed reminding of!) and your commenters. I am so glad that Mary DeTurris Poust linked to you from OSV; I shall be back.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I'm feeling like a rebellious teen, in a mild sense. Sometimes I wonder if we were ever supposed to form organized religion. It seems to set people up for power positions and abuse. As you know, I've experinced spiritual abuse. How could someone who claims to be used as God's voice say such hurtful and emotionally abusive things? How can those people remain in positions of power and abuse, especially when it drives people away from what is intended to be the sanctuary of life? Where is that safe nest we long to rest in on Sunday mornings and in times of personal chaos?

I'm clinging to my personal relationship with God. Listen for the still, small voice. God speaks to us in many voices and actions, dreams and longings.

Great post, Roxane, brave and honest.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Kim, that's probably the case for most of us as we move through this winding journey. Nice thought that we can be a little of each at different times.

Fran, what a blessing to find your comment here today! Looking forward to connecting with you on your blog as well. I'm glad I've helped express some of your own complex thoughts.

And Mary, our fallen nature can be found everywhere -- within the church, within the public sphere outside of the church, within our own souls. I think the best we can do is be watchful for the signs of it rearing its ugly head and continue to form ourselves in a way that we keep it at bay within our own souls and recognize it in others. There are many good souls within the Church. It might end up that you find the greatest sources of love in the person sitting next to you who compliments your children, or someone who tells you your music was lovely, or that they love your smile. The community is important because it draws together the faithful, imperfect though we are. Personally speaking, I need the community -- within my circle of friends and within the larger Church as well. It keeps me grounded and connected. But I agree that God's voice can be found in many places, not just at church, and that listening to the still, small voice is a beautiful way to approach faith.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Roxane, thanks for the thoughtful response. Amen. I've felt some of that already in a new worship space.

Tami said...

I'm not exactly where I am in the journey of faith....


I know that I have it in abundance.

And that my belief in our faith (The Trinity) is not in the least bit shattered or broken over the 'doings' of mankind. Whether neighbor, Sister, or Priest.

Our Creed (Profession of Faith) is strong. When I read it and speak it I do so w/the deepest of conviction. And take from it the comfort, joy and hope that understanding it offers.

Peace be with you.

Roxane B. Salonen said...


This is a beautiful response. Thank you.

And peace be with you in turn. :)