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Response to cbayer (Reply #43)

Sat Mar 16, 2013, 05:12 PM

44. Well, I won't bash atheism

Indeed, I can well understand why some people are atheists. If I wanted to, I could write a really forceful book on exactly what is wrong with the Catholic Church.

Is there much to dislike about the Catholic Church? Certainly. I could recommend Garry Wills' Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit for some examples. (I know Garry, and while I don't agree with everything he says -- and I have discussed his book with him at length -- I do agree with much of it.)

As a Catholic, I am just as outraged as anyone else about pedophile priests and the bishops who cover up their crimes. But how can I let the horrific actions of a few drive me from a tradition I find that, at its core, has beauty?

Do the actions of corrupt politicians shake my faith in democracy, whose core idea is that every person has a voice in government? No. I have more faith in it than that. When the economy dips, do I pull my money out of the bank and hide it in my mattress? No. I have more faith in the process than that.

The very basic core of the Catholic tradition is this: The Creator, something bigger and grander than us, who made the sunsets and the mountains and the stars (whether directly or through natural processes... it doesn't matter) looks upon imperfect humans, who kill and hurt each other, greedily locking ourselves away instead of sharing our talents and resources with everyone for the greater good, have the potential to possess a beauty within us. God looked upon that beauty with a love incomprehensible and decided to insert himself into human history by sending his son to live, suffer, and die just like one of us. He did that so that we could feel that love with the Creator for all of eternity. He told us that we could live forever in those loving arms of the Father if only we embrace that love not only for him, but for each other as well. I believe it was that love that gave life back to this Jesus of Nazareth.

That's my paraphrase. Note that there is nothing in there about popes or bishops or priests. But ask any pope or bishop or priest, or any of us who find that beautiful hope real, and we will tell you the same (more or less. Many will just quote John 3:16 from the Bible, but it's much the same message). It is that beauty and hope of that love that makes me a believer.

It is also a reality that nobody is perfect. Some are even down right monstrous. But that core message never changes. My faith in that message rides out the bumpy times, like when I ride out the bumpiness in the economy, or the times when my trust in my fellow humans falters, as when a corrupt politician is uncovered. Deep down, the core message of love and freedom is pure and true for me.

When I am angry, I yell and shout. I hold errant priests and bishops responsible for their acts. But nothing they do can shake the fact that I still view that love and beauty between myself and my God. It makes me angry that the arrogance of a few to hold on to power. Most of us Catholics simply separate the crap from the beauty, and go on, like we have for nearly two millennia, recognizing the crap (and we Catholics have produced a LOT of crap) but trying every day to celebrate the beautiful things with each other.

For those who would have me go elsewhere, I respond with Peter, "Lord, where shall we go?" My trust, my faith, my love is in Jesus, the sacraments, the traditions of the Catholic Church. It is a faith that calls me. Yes, there are evil people in it. Evil people get into everything. The Catholic Church is an oligarchy. It is not that I love.

But how can I give up Ignatius Loyola and his spiritual exercises? How can I give up Francis of Assisi's love for the poor and all of God's creation? How can I give up the beauty I see in Theresa of Avila's writing? Or turn my back on Cardinal Newman? If I give up Roman Catholicism, I give up all that and much more.

Yes, I know that Cardinal Law et al have acted in ways that disgrace the Church. Many of the current leaders of the Institutional Church are corrupt thugs, from the parish right up to the Vatican.

This is nothing new. Torquemada torturing people to save their souls, popes preaching crusades, Pius XII remaining silent on the Holocaust and then pretending he wasn't, the whole career of St Cyril of Alexandria, the blatant anti-Semitism of St John Chrysostom, etc, etc, etc ad nauseam. The Church is subject to the mischievousness, sinfulness, and frailty of its members and leaders.

But the Church is more than just the institution. It is a fellowship of the people of God, the Body of Christ. Vatican II's document on the Church has a helpful phrase, "The Church, or in other words, the kingdom of Christ now in mystery, grows visibly in the world through the power of God." The Church is, in T S Eliot's phrase from "The Dry Salvages", "The point of intersection of the timeless with time."

In the Nicene Creed, we proclaim that the Church is "holy". This refers to the power of sanctification that heals and justifies in the face of our unholiness. The medieval theologian Albert the Great, commenting on this part of the Creed, said

This article must therefore be traced back to the work of the Holy Spirit, that is, to "I believe in the Holy Spirit", not in himself alone ... but also as far as his work is concerned, which is to make the Church holy. He communicates that holiness in the sacraments, the virtues, and the gifts that he distributes in order to bring holiness about, and finally in the miracles and graces of a charismatic type such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, the discernment of spirits, healing, prophecy, and everything else that the Spirit gives in order to make the holiness of the Church manifest. Thus, the Church does not claim holiness because its members, individually or collectively, are holy. The Church's holiness is an expression of divine love that will not be defeated by our willfulness and weakness. God's covenant is not a contractual arrangement that ceases when we sin, it abides despite everything.


Ephesians 2:20-22 describes the Church as "members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is held together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God."

The Church as Body of Christ makes the holiness of God a reality in the world. The Church's holiness is inseparable from Jesus' holiness, and the Church manifests its holiness in much the same way in which Jesus manifested his. Living in the world, Jesus drew sinners -- tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, thieves -- to himself. Although they were not always fully able to respond to Jesus' call for repentance, they were attracted to his promise of mercy and forgiveness. The taproot of the Church's holiness is not to be found in its attempts to flee from the world into some never-never land untouched by impurity, compromise, or corruption. Rather, it is in embracing Jesus, through whom God embraces the world.

To I agree with Martin Luther, Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott hilfe mir! -- "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me!"

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