A reader writes:
This week I reread the Garry Wills book: Why I Am A Catholic. Wills writes intelligently and candidly about his own disagreements with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. As he explains, the church is not only the hierarchy. The Church - the mystical body of Christ - is all of the people and the priests and the hierarchy. To leave the church, he says, would be to abandon those who have been nothing but good to him simply because he objects to positions held by a few in the hierarchy. And of the hierarchy he says:We do not leave a father whenever he proves wrong on something. That is when he needs us ....
The true lover of a country does not leave it in its time of peril. The patriot is not one who thinks a country must be perfect in order to deserve his allegiance. Patriots are often critics of their country, since they feel so deeply that it is worth protections.
It is for similar reasons that I remain in the Catholic church.
If one truly believes that the church is all of the people, then to leave is rather like cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. To leave would be to abandon those who have nurtured and cherished me. To leave would be abandoning them to the powerful and misguided few who are themselves in need of my willingness to challenge.
A Protestant friend recently confided that she was thinking about leaving her church. She was raised as an Episcopalian, but decided that the Episcopal church was too liberal, so she joined an Evangelical congregation. Now she says she misses the more liturgical aspects of worship, so she is thinking about becoming a Catholic. But she thinks the preaching in the Catholic church is of a poor quality (it often is) and she said that she would not long tolerate a parish if it had bad preaching.
What I realized as I was listening to her is that she is giving no thought to the idea of a church being the people. For her, it seems to be about the smells and bells, or the preaching, but not about the embodiment of Christ in the people. As I listened to her, I realized that she sounded more like a fickle lover than a faithful spouse or a loving family member.
Returning to Wills's argument, marriages and family relationships sometimes hit rocky ground, but when we are committed in love, we don't abandon the beloved.
We stay, we fight, we challenge, we live with compromises and we try to work things out.