When I became a Catholic I had a few people snark, “How nice for you! You won’t have to think anymore.”
I’d never deny that there are robotic Catholics who either can’t think for themselves or who think its a sin, but I haven’t met that many. Most of the Catholics I come across are at least a little committed to thinking things through and taking their faith thoughtfully.
Of course there are some who come along every Sunday and never once give it a thought. They’re doing their duty and that’s it, but that’s not religion. That’s fire insurance.
A good Catholic is a critical Catholic, and I mean “critical” in its proper sense–not being negative and ugly and gossipy and jumping to conclusions, but being realistic about the true nature of the church and her human failings.
What got me going was this article about a kerfuffle in Florida where two former bishops were caught messing around with boys, and then when one of the priests caught a colleague doing the same thing and turned him into police he was vilified and ostracized by the diocesan authorities.
I’m not commenting on the article, and no doubt the case is more complicated than it first appears, but what I’m digging at is the need to be properly critical of the Catholic Church as an institution.
To do this we need to understand and accept that the Church is both supernatural in her divine foundation and continued existence, but at the same time she is full of flawed and sinful people (ones like you and me)
A critical Catholic sees the big picture and tries to understand the mystery that God is working his purpose out within his beloved bride, the Body of Christ on earth, and that this holy and spotless bride subsists in the Catholic Church. At the same time we see the small picture and we are properly critical of the human incompetence, egomania, paranoia, stupidity and just plain sinfulness of her members.
On the one hand we should not be all pious and pretend everyone is more holy than they are. On the other hand, we should not be cynical and suspect that everyone is more of a scoundrel than they are. Charity demands clarity.
Love has twenty twenty vision. My optometrist gives me two contact lenses. One for close vision and the other for distance. They work together to give me the best eyesight possible. So it is with our view of the church. We need close and critical vision, but we also need distance vision. We need to see the problems which are small and the glorious long range vision of the church which is big.
It is okay, therefore, to be properly critical of the small stuff in the church and to do our best to clean things up, make things more efficient, take the path of perfection and be impatient with our failures.
But if we get too consumed with the failures of Catholics we’ll get depressed and lose faith. On the other hand, if we are too starry eyed about the church we will soon be disappointed and lose faith.
Therefore, be a critical Catholic. Accept that the church is human and flawed, but also accept that the church is divine and will one day be revealed in her most stupendous and astounding beauty.
Accept the grit and grime, but don’t forget to glimpse the glory.
And when you’re inclined to be critical, don’t forget to look in the mirror.
You will certainly find the grittiness and grime of the church there, but there you will also find in microcosm, the glimpse of future glory.
Image Creative Commons via Bing