Monday, August 25, 2014

The Real Scandal of the Church



I remember being sick once.  It was a kind of flu that came on suddenly.  I was hit by it while on a walk and it took all my strength to retrace the few miles back home.  I was laid out good, for several days.  I could hardly get out of bed.  I didn't want to read or anything.

When I finally got better, a strange little thought struck me.  The wonder, I thought, is not that we get sick but that we're ever well.  Getting up and about, loving life, doing things, being happy - these things are almost miraculous.  The baseline is illness; the unexplained gift is health.

***

I have written a lot recently about Bad Things.  Catholics unable to find mates.  Bishops and cardinals boldly acting without a trace of compassion.  The lack of love that even parents or friends or spouses can be convicted of.

And I may yet write on the strange case of cult leader / child molester Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, whose financial frauds are detailed here.  Leaving his sexual perversion and child abuse aside, and looking at his financial malfeasance alone, you have to wonder how intelligent Catholic businessmen could have been so seduced by the prospect of a false utopia in the Pennsylvania hills that they gave millions to this man.  The fact that the bishop was fooled comes as no surprise ... but rich Catholic businessmen? Guys who have some practical knowledge of the world?  What on earth is wrong with us???

And, over on Facebook, my Catholic friends are quite rightly upset about all this stuff - for it all causes scandal.  Is this the best we can expect from bishops and priests?  Is this the best we can expect from the laity?  Is this the best we can expect from ourselves?  One of my loyal blog readers asks, "If clerical celibacy is a sham, why don't we just do away with it?"

But of course, you could also ask, "If marriage is a sham, why don't we just do away with it?"  Or, "If the priesthood is a sham, why don't we just do away with it?"  Or, "If the friendship is a sham or if parenthood is a sham, or if Faith itself is a sham ... "

***

The fact is there is a bigger scandal here than we can imagine.

My friend Tom Leith reminded me of it, though we all know it.

The much, much larger scandal, literally and anciently the 'stumbling block' of Faith, is that there is a personal God in Heaven who loves you so very much He told his Son to take on flesh and die for you. Then the Son did it. Who'd a thunk?

Who'd a thunk indeed.

Realize this: the reason all of these things that I've been harping on lately seem so discouraging to us is that we have a built in tension in our souls, a contradiction.  On the one hand, we are sick men unable to get out of bed.  On the other hand, we yearn for Truth, Beauty and Goodness and we are crestfallen when we see men and women who aspire to these glories either deliberately or unwittingly missing the mark.  The bad would not look bad were there not a backdrop of good behind it, even a backdrop that never gets fully realized in this world.  And that backdrop of good - that image in our hearts - comes from where?

It comes from beyond our souls.  It comes from the miraculous place - the place of joy and light - not from the sick place, the place where we feel so awful and the world looks so gray that we can't even get out of bed some days.  That latter place is well known and common and always with us.

But that spark - that true scandal of love and self-sacrifice; that thrilling secret truth of the universe: the fact that caritas is the engine that drives us, "the love that moves the sun and the other stars" as Dante (the Catholic poet) described it some 700 years ago, the tremendously shocking fact that there is a God who cares, which is why we care - this is so inconceivable the only response is to stop our mouths in awe (see Job 40:4).

That is the Real Scandal of the Church, and that is why every act that denies that, every sin of our own that serves to reject that, every passing thought that rebels against that, is treason to Him ... to a God who is Love Itself.



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