When I scroll through Facebook, it is difficult to not feel at least a little discouraged. My mini-world of online Catholic life, neatly curated based on my interests, is overflowing with article after article of questions, deception, and Church hierarchy. I haven’t joined the fray and posted yet another reflection on the duplicity found within some of the Church’s most elevated ordained men. It didn’t seem necessary after millions of words have been spilled over it and it doesn’t seem to help the hurting. Despite not posting about it, I feel the increasing weight of the problems and wonder what will happen next.
My faith isn’t shaken–it wasn’t rooted in bishops or the Holy Father to begin with. I don’t feel compelled to even consider leaving the Church–She is my home and I would not want to be an orphan in this crazy world. I do, however, ache for the hurting and I frequently consider how this must look from the perspective of my students. When hypocrisy is so blatant, it is a struggle for them to see why one should belong to such a fragile, sinful institution.
Despite the fact that I am unshaken in my desire to remain in the Church, the Lord gave me a generous gift. Yesterday, the Lord gave me what I didn’t know I needed.
I attended a Theology on Tap.
I know the coordinator pretty well (she is my sister, after all) and so I have known about the progress of the launch of this new program every step of the way. Yet when I walked into the gathering space, I was surprised at the number of people already present. And as the minutes continued to pass, I was soon blown away by the number of people who came streaming in. An event that initially had aimed for fifty people and then optimistically raised its hopes to seventy or eighty, eventually rounded out at about 150 people.
The attendees? They were young college kids, adults in the first decade of “adult” work, middle-aged parents, and grandpas and grandmas. A gentleman at my table graduated from high school in 1956. A priest stood behind me. A co-worker sat next to me. My parents were nearby. A couple sat on the floor near the bar, all available seats having long been snatched up.
The attendees? The Church.
Last night, the Church showed up. She was vibrant, alive, and superabundant. She reminded me how beautiful She is. She surprised us–She surprised the waiters who scurried around with drinks and food. In the midst of a month rocked by scandal, the reality of the Church arose in full force. People walked into a downtown bar, down a flight of steps, and into the heartbeat of the Church. They awkwardly joined each other at tables, lack of space preventing them from the staggered space experienced in the church pews. We laughed together, drank together, and soaked in the beauty of this strange hybrid we call Church, with one foot in Heaven and the other here on Earth.
Regardless what is happening or what happened in the Church hierarchy, the Church is alive. She isn’t perfect, but She is hungry and thirsty for truth, community, and joy. From the young adults to the elderly, we had a desire that we wanted to have filled. I enjoyed the evening and the 80-year old man at my table did, too. At the end of the talk, he turned to me and asked the date of the next gathering.
This superabundance of people and goodness was juxtaposed with my somber and disheartening Facebook news feed. And I choose reality. I choose the Church that I saw last night.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.