Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Loving All the Poor Schmucks

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.

How can we say we love the Church we cannot see if we do not love the Church we can see, if we despise, deride, hector, criticize, judge, complain continually about it? And this love for the Church, which includes a commitment to being united to the Church, a unity that involves submission to the God-established structures of authority in the Church, takes us very deeply indeed into the spiritual life, as this reading from Catherine will show us in the next days. 


  1. We hear all the time, sometimes from commenters on blogs like this but often from authoritative princes of the church, how this person or that should leave the church or not receive the sacraments , declare those in religious life laicized or even excommunicated because of this or that belief or behavior. We see it over and over again from guys like Lennon in Cleveland, Morlino in Wisconsin, Cordeleone in San Fransisco, Chaput in Philly. I don't want to get nasty about these guys but often they are men with the most foul personal behaviors and failings. Many times the people whom they excoriate so cruelly are those that I admire, who work and live among the unfortunate, the poor, the refugee. It saddens me and I'm ashamed to say often bitter and angry.

    ........and so I did leave the church. I now live in a World of women priests, Gay married priests, some people who venerate Christ for his teachings and not because they believe he is a God and offers eternal life in Heaven. You know what? None of those people offend me at all. I find them legitimate seekers of truth and beauty, who live together in faith, love hope and charity.

    Church is what and where you find it. You can put a mitre on a thug, give him a golden staff and put him in a cathedral, it doesn't make him a representative of God or true Christianity.

    Progressive Church? It's just a place where you have the right to say yeah or nay. To face up and confront those who would bully or abuse others in the name of piety, misapplied doctrine and "natural law". I didn't leave the church. I stayed with Jesus.

    1. I'm sorry your experience of the Catholic Church has been so bad. You seem to have been very hurt and carry a great deal of anger about it (mitred thug...). I would point out, though, that the Jesus you are trying to follow counsels forgiveness of enemies and warns us to not be angry with our brother or call him 'fool... renegade...' That's the Gospel of Jesus, not Church doctrine. And the bishop is your brother, you know. Just another poor schmuck who may or may not be doing such a great job. If you must be angry with them, could you at least pray for them, as Jesus commanded us to do?
      That's all I would say on the point, as I don't mean to intrude on your personal journey - a blog combox is not the place for that, right? Myself, I'm staying with the poor schmucks that are part of the Church that has stumbled along for 2000 years, rather than separate myself from it.
      I know we disagree, deeply, about all that, and I am happy to keep discussing it. I would encourage you to stick around this blog for the next few days, not for my insights, but to see what Catherine Doherty did when faced with the sins and failures of the Church. It's another perspective, from someone who certainly did give her life in service of the poor. God bless you.

  2. The Catholic Church has achieved an amazing feat. Having alienated an entire population of the faithful in the lands where it once dominated the culture, it still has them convinced that there is no true religion outside of it. The result is a large percentage of the Catholic community sitting on the side lines waiting for the church to change so that they can participate again. In the mean time whole generations are unchurched.

    Do not be sorry for me. I have a religious community that I am happy with and is welcoming. It is small and will likely stay that way. It poses no threat to traditional catholicism. Traditional catholicism will die by it's own hand. Perhaps that is appropriate.


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