By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.
The conversation started as any other conversation of its sort does: “I was raised Catholic, but I don’t go any longer,” she said. “If you don’t mind me asking, why?” I queried, bolstered by the fact that it was 11:30 pm after a wedding and we stood in a hotel lobby.
“It.. doesn’t speak to me, I guess.”
Later in the day, I received a series of text messages from a dear friend, reacting to a Corpus Christi homily, which, among other things, expressed that the preference of the Church is communion on the tongue (despite, you know, what the bishops say, see #41) and comparing those folks who leave early from Mass to Judas (who, lo and behold, left early from the first Mass).
My friend texted:
“They spend all their time preaching about how to look Catholic and never talk about how to be Catholic…They’re lucky I’m a sensible man and will find a new parish instead of leaving the church altogether.”
“I’ve spent a big chunk of my life defending the church to people who said it was silly and out of touch. Turns out I was wrong – what a waste.”
It’s a conversation – both of them, actually – that I’ve had way too many times in the last few years. The Church doesn’t speak to me. Or, I know that Father X is against communion in the hand, but what is the Church (= this fellow Jesus, the Christ of God) for?
Those of you who’ve read what I’ve posted on this blog in its six-plus months of existence, know that I don’t shy away from controversy or articulating a message of conversion. I don’t consider myself a Moral Therapeutic Deist, a liberalizing follower of von Harnack, or one of the countless troves of preachers who manage to avoid the Cross and any type of suffering, all in the name of human flourishing (whatever the hell that means). I love being a Capuchin, I love my three-week old priesthood, and I believe that if the Lord’s grace was enough for Saul of Tarsus, it can do the same thing for me.
But: I. Don’t. Get. It.
One of my greatest fears in ministry – and other folks connected with both lay and ordained ministry have echoed this in conversations with me – is that when I invite someone back to Church, I’m absolutely scared to death at what they’ll find in the pew or the confessional. Will they be called Judas? Will they find themselves not challenged to greater charity and imitation of Christ, but met with a crass rejoinder that the Catechism says this or that?*
It is so absolutely depressing and stultifying that the Church I dearly love – the Bride of Christ (yes, I really believe that) – is constantly painted as an arbiter of grace, rather than its conduit.
And we need to start doing it better. Now. Mediocrity and timidity is no longer an option. To me, this isn’t a matter of buttressing the financial outlook of our parishes, keeping a crumbling infrastructure from physical collapse, or even making sure that the patrimony of the Church remains intact. No: it’s a lot more important than that: to do better means allowing the true beauty of the Church – the saving message of Christ’s once-and-for-all reconciliation of the world to the Father through the Spirit to shine in a way that it speaks to all sinners (me being first on the list) in the depths of our heart.
The fundamental principle of the whole Christian project, it seems to me, ought not be one of speaking to a whole group of people, but rather bringing them into conversation with the living God.
The Church needs to speak with people and for people, especially those of our number we color as Judas.
*Don’t get me wrong, I love the Catechism, but whenever I hear a homily begin, “In the the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it states…” I wince. If no one has noticed, let me say it out loud, arguments from authority don’t work as well as they used to work.