A theology of staying

from Aimee Milburn’s blog (the posting there has interesting comments, too):

In the Catholic world there is a certain amount of parish-hopping as people look for parishes they like, but it is still the same Church, all one Body, with the same teaching and leadership – which means we must really learn to love our sometimes very difficult neighbors in the pews, bear with what sometimes are very difficult faults, and carry sometimes very heavy burdens. We are confronted with warts and wrinkles and sometimes very overt sins, and weakness and failures in leadership.

And yet we must stay. And in staying, and learning to love anyway, we grow in holiness and real selflessness and real, unshakeable faith – for we truly are staying at the foot of the cross with Christ, who had been so disfigured as to become unrecognizable. And sometimes the Church is so disfigured by the sins of her members, including of her leaders, that she, too, is unrecognizable as the Bride of Christ, and as Christ Himself. But she is Christ – and loving her, even in her disfigurement, is truly to love Christ on the Cross. To wash her with your tears is truly to wash Christ with the perfume of your love.

I don’t mean to make it sound like the Catholic world is all ugliness and suffering. It’s not – there’s plenty of beauty and joy here, even if sometimes well-hidden from the world. Just come to mass at the Cathedral here with me sometime, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. But I have been far more challenged to grow in holiness, and to learn what real love is, which is costly, steadfast and enduring and forgiving even in difficulty, than I ever was in the Protestant world – and I was in a very good church there. Even there, when a scandal came and engulfed the pastor and the going got rough, large numbers left and went elsewhere – and some tried to get me to leave, too, and go to a “better” church, though that is the exact opposite of what scripture tells us to do (just ponder the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Mt 13:24-30, and study the second epistle of Peter, to get an idea of how to behave when scandal comes). It caused me to think of Protestantism almost as a “theology of leaving,” and since becoming Catholic to think of Catholicism as a “theology of staying.”

Well, I’m staying, warts and all. I love Catholicism, and the Church, and the people, even the nasty ones. I love them. They’re members of my own body, part and parcel of Christ who loves me. And considering what my life has been, and the fact that Christ loves me anyway, how could I not but love them, too? If I didn’t, then I truly would be like the debtor whose debt was forgiven – but refused to forgive those in debt to me:

“’You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt 18:32-34)

That is an outcome I for one do not want. No, we must forgive, and love, and stay put – even if it means staying at the foot of the cross.

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