The other day, I was speaking on the phone with someone who has long worked for a Catholic institution, and in the course of the conversation about some present, painful job-related difficulties, this person said, ‘Sometimes I wonder if Jesus has anything to do with the work we do.’
It set me wondering.
Having worked within the Church Institutional for the last ~24 years, I have noted that Original Sin, ever alive and well in its unoriginal devotees, is, shall we say, quite evidently evident.
The bumps, bruises and ecclesial blows I have endured, and doled out, over those years have convinced me of one bedrock truth on which I have striven to build my life’s work: the Church is Christ’s Body, Christ’s Bride. And, at the center of this truth is a paradox: Christ established the Church on the foundation of his brutal execution, on humanity’s mortal rejection of God that, in the Resurrection, became God’s immortal acceptance of humanity. In other words, the fact that human infidelity was built into the Church’s founding event makes sin into a place of grace.
When I first arrived at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in 1989, I met an elder priest at the Lourdes Grotto who said to me, ‘The secret to a lifetime as a priest is found in Jeremiah 17:5 and Psalm 146:3.’ After I read them later, I thought, ‘Cynic.‘
Now, I get it.
In the final analysis, I will be judged on how tightly I cleaved to Christ dead-risen. Only thus do human failures become so many singular graced opportunities to trust aright and sink my anchor in the Rock. O felix culpa!
Italian theologian Carlo Carretto starkly expressed this vantage:
The Church has the power to make me holy but it is made up, from the first to the last, only of sinners. And what sinners! It has the omnipotent and invincible power to renew the Miracle of the Eucharist, but is made up of men who are stumbling in the dark, who fight every day against the temptation of losing their faith. It brings a message of pure transparency to God but it is incarnated in slime, such is the substance of the world. It speaks of the sweetness of its Master, of its non-violence, but there was a time in history when it sent out its armies to disembowel the infidels and torture the heretics. It proclaims the message of evangelical poverty, and yet it does nothing but look for money and alliances with the powerful.
Those who dream of something different from this are wasting their time and have to rethink it all. And this proves that they do not understand humanity. Because this is humanity, made visible by the Church, with all its flaws and its invincible courage, with the Faith that Christ has given it and with the love that Christ showers on it.
When I was young, I did not understand why Jesus chose Peter as his successor, the first Pope, even though he abandoned Him. Now I am no longer surprised and I understand that by founding his church on the tomb of a traitor, He was warning each of us to remain humble, by making us aware of our fragility
We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the Cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I, myself, admire the present pope (John Paul II), but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing a pope (or a priest) could do or say would make me wish to leave the church, although I might well wish that they would leave.