Over the past several weeks, readers of this column and people I have met on pastoral visits have told me some of their friends have asked them: “With all that is happening in the Church, why do you remain a Catholic?” That is a question for all of us to contemplate and to answer.
In my own case, I was baptized a few weeks after birth and educated, from first grade through high school, college, seminary, and graduate school, in schools and institutions under the care of the Church. I was raised in a home where the faith was always present, but not overbearing. I learned about my faith by the teachings and good example of those closest to me — my parents, grandparents, and teachers.
Growing up I experienced the liturgical year with its varied seasons, Advent and Lent, Christmas and Easter, May and October Marian devotions, and prayers for the departed souls in November. Sunday Mass as a family gave me an opportunity to praise and thank God for His many gifts, to ask for His help in the week ahead, and to commend to the tender care of God those who had gone before me marked with the sign of faith.
At Mass, I heard the word of God and was nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ. The celebration of the sacraments, Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Confirmation were key moments in my life. “Going to Confession” regularly was a reminder that although I sometimes failed in living the commandments, God’s forgiveness was always available to me.
It was in my home, the parish, and the schools I attended that I heard the first stirrings of the beauty and goodness and truth of the faith and eventually felt called by God (after the gentle invitation of my pastor) to consider the priesthood.
The current situation in the Church brought about by human sin and failure never crossed my mind as a seminarian or a young priest. I do remember, however, the rich teachings of the Church; the importance of Sacred Scripture; the social teaching of the Church, the schools, and institutions that helped form thousands of people not only in our country but throughout the world; the hospitals and health care clinics where women religious brought hope, healing, and tender care to those who were sick. As a young priest, I saw the outstanding efforts of the Church to protect all of life from the first moment of conception to the moment of natural death. Each week I witnessed people, despite their personal struggles, trying to live their lives according to God’s plan. I saw the Church as a mother and teacher, as St. John XXIII taught in one of the great social encyclicals.
I have always been drawn to the image of the Church as a mother. The Church is a mother because she gives us life in the Sacrament of Baptism. She continues to care for us and to teach us how we should act in this life so that one day we will enjoy eternal life in heaven. She sacrifices for us, heals us, and celebrates with us. She embraces both the saint and sinner.
Cardinal de Lubac, a gifted theologian, in his book The Splendor of the Church, reminds us “every true Catholic will have a feeling of tender piety toward [the Church]. He will love to call her ‘mother’ — the title that sprang from the hearts of her first children…. Thanks to the Church the Gospel is proposed to all, both the great and the small of the world, from generation to generation, and if it does not produce in us its fruition of life, the fault is ours.”
We may be tempted today to see only the outward form of the Church, which in our time is marred seriously by human frailty and sin. No doubt the Church contains both good and bad fish, wheat and weeds, saints and sinners. In this time of scandal, however, it is critical to remember that the Church remains spotless even when her members sin. “There were sinners in the Church yesterday and there are sinners in the Church today. But the Church Herself, in her divine teaching, emerges gloriously unspotted in a history stained by human weaknesses, errors, imperfections, and sins” (Dr. Dietrich Von Hildebrand).
I love the Church. I remain within her loving embrace because I believe Jesus founded the Church. I believe she is the best help on our way to salvation. I believe we need the Church because she gives us the Eucharist, the sacraments, and the guidance and teachings of a wise and holy mother. I believe with Benedict XVI, “there is much that can be criticized about the Church, but it remains, ‘the great family of God.’” I remain a Catholic and a member of the Church because I want to be part that family.
Please do not use the scandals of our present day as an excuse to leave the Church. We need to remain within the Church and pray that this moment will be one of profound conversion and renewal. Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.