Father Thomas Berg, whose book, Hurting in the Church: a Way Forward for Wounded Catholics, which was recommended here last week, wrote recently about what he called the “elephant in the room”.
The Church’s elephant in the room is our pervasive uncharity. It’s the sad reality that we far too often fail, and fail miserably at what should be the most basic expression of our identity: everyday interpersonal charity. In its stead, far too often what do we experience in our parishes, rectories, chanceries and ministry offices? A sickly inner culture of harshness, gossip, backbiting, detraction, destructive criticism, jealousy, intolerance, manipulation, as well as uncaring aloofness, disinterest, insensitivity and unconcern.
After ten years of working for the Church, all I can add is, “Amen.”
Despite my occasional rants, I don’t like to criticize the Church, because I love the Church and I love the Catholic faith. Isn’t there an expression along the lines of, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand?” I feel like that about the Church sometimes, but I don’t believe it has to be that way.
In many ways, we have grown accustomed to a life of charity grown cold. Of course failures in charity have been a challenge from day one. But history cannot lead us simply to shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, well.” The fact that things have often more or less been this way in the Church does not absolve us of the imperative of doing something to change that status quo.
Beyond the hurt that a person may feel because a particular nun or priest has been abusive, for example (because they represent the “Church”), is the fact that so often the Church does not care. They may go through their self-serving motions to address the abuse, but they give no indication that they actually care about the individual who has been hurt or that they share in responsibility for that hurt. Their platitudes are sometimes so hollow that they increase the hurt already inflicted.
Charity is not passive. The Church – both in the sense of the institution and of the people – must choose to act in charity. That means taking on the smell of the sheep, as Pope Francis has said. It means going beyond the families who are at Mass every Sunday, although they have their hurts too, and reaching out to those who are already estranged. This is especially important for the clergy to do, but the laity also have a responsibility to reach out to their neighbors.
It is nothing short of a scandal that so few of us Christians are distinguishable from anyone else. That is something each of us must own. The good new is… The Good News. We have recourse to all that is beautiful about the Church, especially the sacraments that Christ has given us. During this season of Lent, especially, let us look deep at what needs fixing within ourselves, make a good confession, and focus on Jesus, who shares with us every hurt and injustice we experience. Through Him, and only through Him, we will find healing.