“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?