Sometimes I get really frustrated with organized religion. When the responsibility of formation falls into the hands of the insecure or those who are themselves inadequately formed, any God-talk paradigm is merely jive theology. Religion, when exploited as a means to social power, is a dangerous vector of guilt, repression and confusion. I understand why people don’t practice anymore. There are moments in my own life when I’m uncertain about whether the Church is the right place for me.
Over the centuries, I think much of the Catholic church has lost it, whatever “it” is. We face forward when we should be looking at each other. We talk to the shoulders of the person in the next pew, when we should be looking in their eyes and affirming God’s presence. We use devotions and novenas as currency in exchange from favors from God. Rarely are we encouraged to try something new, like the Hours. We read words off pages.. Liturgists have legislated how we can talk about God, and who can do it. We listen to exhortations which often come from an experience with little first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, be evicted or eat grits for dinner again.
Ordained people have become an endangered species that some will do anything to protect. I suspect that there are a few who have even stopped believing, but the complexities of the clerical system keep them from stepping away, even for a time. Leaving behind the amenities of the clerical state could be really difficult, especially if I had been out of the workforce for decades. Then there’s the guilt: “If I don’t do my job, who else will?” One less priest or deacon could mean the neighboring administrator could be asked to assume responsibility of an additional parish. I’ve had my fair share of clergy snap at me over the years. I can understand why some can be so miserable at times- most of them are so overwhelmed. Fortunately, I know quite a few happy ones, and several who were self-aware enough to take time away before the burn-out became a wildfire.
For whatever reason, I’ve been privileged to meet people who promote the Church as a being of longing, a longing to be, and a place of belonging. I’ve been fortunate to encounter open minded Catholics- lay & ordained- who are not about to censure legitimate questions, as they themselves question the ecclesial status quo. I’ve been blessed to be part of different Catholic churches where we didn’t do shoulder talk. We did face time.
Today, I spent time with a friend who lost a beloved family member. When I was still a newcomer to the area, she introduced me to many great people she met when she belonged to the parish choir where she sang as a teenager. There is a sense of acceptance and fellowship among us. It felt so good to be there for her, and to bond with one of her old choir buddies. This is what the early Christians would have done. This is why so many people of the early Church handed over everything, even their rights under civil law to become Christian. They wanted to have this- a sense of acceptance, a sense of dependability, and an experience of truly unconditional love. This is it. Friendship. Belonging. Kinship. This is what the Church is about–real interpersonal communion, fellowship, friendship.
On the altar of life, in the monstrance of our memory, may the presence of Christ we meet in our friends be held in true adoration.