Last week, I noted that the biggest enemies of the Church are the right wing bigots at war with Pope Francis and in love with the racist, intellect-hating, Mammon-worship MAGA antichrist cult represented by such figures as Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene. I noted that there used to be a time where such self-identified “Faithful Conservative Catholics” defended the faith from Know Nothing imbeciles like her, whereas now they (and such propaganda organs at war with the Pope like EWTN) embrace and welcome these haters of the Faith.
It could be construed by these remarks that I think all criticism of the Church to be an evil. I do not. The Church, while certainly the primary sacrament of salvation and ordained by Jesus Christ himself, remains what Paul called it: a jar of clay. It participates in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity and he works through it as he wills for the salvation of the world. But we, its members, remain always in this life as sinners who are saved by grace and not by our superiority to the rest of the human race. Indeed, it often appears to be the case that God chooses for membership in the Church those cases of depraved humanity most in need of his mercy, as a doctor admits the stage IV cancer victim, not the man with indigestion, for priority treatment. The result is that the Church seems to go through cycles of renewal and (as now) cycles of horrifying and embarrassing displays of sinful selfishness.
Case in point, this painful and accurate diagnosis by Fr. Bryan Massingale. Comparing the abuse crisis of twenty years ago with the present, he says:
The silver lining is much harder to detect this time. I believe it is this: In my questioners, I see a hunger for Jesus. I hear a desire to return to the gospel. There is a hunger for meaning and purpose, a yearning for a deeper connection with what really matters. And they believe that Jesus—with his passionate challenge to abundant mercy—holds the key to their longings.
What frustrates them is that the Jesus of the gospels is absent from the pronouncements and actions of church leaders. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is cited more than the one to whom the church is to lead us. My questioners express a conviction recently articulated by theologian William Cavanaugh, who declared, “The church is only attractive when people can see the poor Christ in it.”
Just as in 2002, people’s deep disappointment with the church reveals a deep love. Except not for the church. For Jesus Christ. Unless the church begins to understand that its purpose is not to defend its institutional prerogatives and boundaries but to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then people’s hunger for Jesus will lead them to look elsewhere to satisfy their longings.
This would wreck my faith–if my faith were in the Church. But it is not and should never be, any more than the faith of the Corinthians was supposed to be in Paul, Peter, or Apollos. The Church is and always has been a collection of sinners, dunderheads, and preternaturally stupid people. Always. You can see it in the gospels as the cream of the crop, the apostles, ask and do one stupid thing after another and demonstrate their utter failure to learn a damn thing when the graduate level exams suddenly come due after three years of schooling by the greatest teacher in history and they all fail by abandoning him and denying him at the hour of his greatest need. This is who we are. This is what we are made of.
But just as truly, the apostles learned their lessons, abandoned their hope in their own sufficiency, and learned to live by and for the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God, and the love of neighbor. And because of that, their fruits were astonishing.
At present, huge portions of the American Church are failing spectacularly by siding with the forces of mammon, corrupt power, violence, racism, and hatred of both faith and reason in a bid for raw nihilist power, at war with God. That is what I was speaking about last week. But as Catholics like Fr. Massingale and others make clear, God has not left himself without witness and it is precisely by the prophetic voices of such critics–calling the Church back to obedience to Jesus Christ and service to the least of these–that the Church will be brought back to the Holy Spirit and cured of her addiction to the spirit of the age.