I have always loved the Church. This is a very strange statement to make: All Christians should love the Church. But from earliest childhood I have had a deep, deep feeling for her. As a child it made no difference to me whether the church building was Orthodox or Roman Catholic.
The building itself attracted me. I didn’t understand then too much about the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. It was the building itself that held a fascination. Time and again I would just walk in and sit down. Sometimes I collected flowers and strewed them in front of the iconostasis or the Holy Doors. In a Catholic church I used to climb the altar steps and lay flowers in front of what I called the “Little House.”
Now that I am thinking about it, my son George used to do the same thing. He used to take his toys to St. Basil’s church in Toronto (we lived right across the street) and place them in front of the tabernacle. Nobody knew who kept doing this, but the sacristan had to keep removing them. One day he caught George in the act. The sacristan crossed the street to inform me of what was happening; also to return all the toys. When my son saw the toys returned, he said, “Oh, God sent them back! I must give him some new ones!” Did my son inherit this custom from me? Who can tell. All I know is that from an early age I loved the church building itself, and so did my son.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Fragments of My Life
Reflection – Amidst all the furious debates and discussions that went on here last week, there was one comment that alternately amused, puzzled, and annoyed me a bit. One commenter, speaking as a representative of what is known as ‘progressive’ Catholicism, expressed surprise that a priest of Madonna House would be such a strong defender of the Church’s teachings and, in his words, a ‘traditionalist.’
Leaving aside the word ‘traditionalist,’ which I would never apply to myself, I was a bit bemused that somewhere out there MH is seen as being as something other than what it is. What MH is, is what our foundress Catherine Doherty founded it to be: a Roman Catholic community, faithful to the Church. Simple, period.
And so I’d like to read through a most beautiful document from Catherine on the blog the next little bit. It is the final chapter of her autobiography Fragments of My Life, entitled, ‘The Church and I.” It expresses in a most profound and illuminating way her deep love of the Church, a love that did not blind her to the real problems and failures of the Church, but which always drove her into a deeper service, a deeper care, and a deeper prayer for the Church. Meanwhile her own loyalty and obedience to the Church and its teachings is a matter beyond question: she was accused of many sins and misdoings in her life, but never of being a disobedient or dissenting Catholic.
She starts off here with her childhood understanding, loving the church building itself. Children are not abstract; for a child ‘the Church’ is the local parish church. But this is, in fact, kind of the point. The Church in its theological depth is this invisible spiritual reality: the whole of redeemed humanity gathered as a single body around Christ the head, animated by the Holy Spirit, extending in time, space and eternity as a vast host gathered around the throne of God in praise and in love. Hallelujah.
But we are all, to some degree or other, little children. That invisible spiritual reality needs a visible expression. And so—the Church on earth. The little parish church with its tacky wall hangings and faded carpet, or perhaps its beautiful stained glass and polished marble. It should be as beautiful as we can make it, since it is a making visible of this invisible reality.
But no matter—sometimes we fall rather short in the beauty department, right? And we are all called to a love for the visible Church. A love for the building, yes, but also for the people. A love for the poor schmuck in the pew next to you, but also a love for the bishops, the priests, the pope (all of whom are, and I speak personally, Poor Schmucks in our own right).
We must love the Church, because it is God’s dwelling place among men. And we cannot say we love the Church in its invisible spiritual dimension if we do not love the visible Church with all its flaws and foibles and tackiness, its being hard when we want it to be soft, or soft when we want it to be hard.