In the last few years, I haven’t interacted much with the Church at large, outside of my own wonderful parish. In the last couple months, though, I had a number of experiences that brought me out of my normal Catholic comfort zone. What I saw was quite striking — and is perhaps best described by Dickens’s famous opening line in A Tale of Two Cities.
It was the worst of times
Several of these experiences left me with a feeling of sadness and discouragement over the state of our Church in the world.
A near-empty parish
On the anniversary of my father’s death, my mother had a Saturday Vigil Mass said for him at her parish, and invited the whole family to come. I know it’s not the most well-attended parish in her town, but there were more pews than parishioners. The only people there under age fifty were in my family.
They must be desperate
At the family Fourth of July barbecue, my cousin and her boyfriend brought their new baby, Edison. My aunt and cousin were discussing their plans to baptize the baby. My aunt wondered if there would be a problem because Edison wasn’t a saint’s name. She remembered her friend Betty getting scolded by the nuns in her elementary school because she didn’t have a saint’s name. I tried to interject that Edison is a variation of Edward, and that one does not need a saint’s name to be baptized, anyway. My cousin quipped, “Well, either way, they can’t afford to be picky. The Church needs all the people they can get.”
An “immoral institution”
In the last few months, I have seen several people on secular online forums or social media platforms expressing feelings of moral superiority for opposing the Catholic Church. They are proud they are “not supporting an institution that harbors sex offenders.” They can’t imagine anything good that could come from involvement with the Church. The ripple effects of the horrific actions of some continue to harm souls, even decades later.
It was the best of times
Interspersed with these discouraging instances, I also experienced several ways our Church is a shining light on a hill.
Home, sweet home parish
My own vibrant, beautiful parish rarely has an empty pew at any of the five Sunday Masses. Almost daily, it offers faith enrichment and service events. On the first night of the summer discussion series on virtue, so many people came that some people had to stand.
“This must be what heaven is like”
At the beginning of July, I had the honor of seeing two old friends be ordained to the priesthood. It was a glorious event in so many ways. As one of my friends described the ordination, “This is amazing: such joy, beautiful music, a multitude praising God, reuniting with old friends. This must be what heaven is like!” I also thought about how many young men I knew before they became priests. True, our Church doesn’t have an oversupply of priests, but I know far more men who later entered the priesthood than my baby boomer parents ever did.
I resisted joining Twitter for many years. I heard the horror stories about how vicious people can be on there, but I finally decide to join in May. By being careful about whom I follow (and unfollow), I have found much joy, laughter, and edification from some of the awesome Catholics there — with very little nastiness. It’s like I discovered a whole new world of witty, clever, holy people in our Church!
In short, the Church was much like ourselves
I sat and pondered the paradox of the experiences I had over the last few months in my Church: a Church of dwindling parishes and thriving parishes, a Church glowing with the Light of the Holy Spirit and darkened by the stain of sin and scandal. Then it occurred to me: my Church was just like me! How often do I do something pure and holy, then without skipping a beat, choose to do wrong and fail to do good in the next moment? Each of us is made in the Image and Likeness of God, and at the same time, is a member of the fallen human race.
In ourselves and in our Church, we see the contradictions inherent to our fallen, yet redeemed, world. The Church Militant certainly has its battle scars, but let us not allow them to keep us from union with God for all eternity as the Church Triumphant!
Copyright 2019 Monica Portogallo