A dear friend sent me this link to a story of a Jewish guy who converted to the Catholic faith. The story of his conversion is moving and real, then the story goes sour as he recounts his disappointing experience of Catholicism on the ground. He comes across New Agey kooks leading RCIA, ignorant Catholics, a priest who is liberal on abortion and likes Clinton, bad music, sloppy liturgy…you know the whole sad tale.

I’m sympathetic, but I’d like to stand this commonplace moan on it’s head. Oh yes, you come into the Catholic Church and the liturgy is dreary, the music lyrics come from greeting cards and the music from the nursery. The preaching is dire, the youth ministry is downright creepy in its attempt to be ‘cool’ and the fellowship is non existent.

Remember two things: first, the disappointing human reality does not obliterate the eternal Truth. When we marry most people have high expectations of living happily ever after. Unfortunately, most marriages are not rosy all day every day. People fight. In laws arrive. Kids disobey and rebel. Siblings hate each other. Tragedy happens. Ignorance and vanity and selfishness intrude. Complacency and taking each other for granted grows like a cancer. Relationships break down. It’s a mess.

It’s also what we call marriage. When it doesn’t go as we planned we don’t bail out of the marriage (at least we shouldn’t) Neither do we dismiss the institution of marriage as ill conceived. We don’t throw marriage out and look for some different arrangement. We don’t suddenly tell young people not to marry. We stick with it. We hang in there for better or for worse. If we are disappointed the best thing we can do is to examine our expectations. Maybe we are disappointed because we were expecting the wrong thing in the first place.

Protestantism has led us to expect the perfect Church as our promiscuous society as led us to expect the perfect mate. Protestantism has led us to shop around, constantly on the prowl, looking for something that doesn’t exist, just as our society tempts us to prowl around looking for the perfect partner.

The second thing, is that we all (if we have a touch of maturity about us) agree that it is actually in the tough times of marriage that we grow most as people, and we grow closer to the other person. It’s a risk, of course, and it doesn’t always happen that way. The tough times can ruin us, and ruin our marriage, but it is in the test that our love is proven or not. It is in the difficulty that we show our mettle. It is in our submision to our disappointing condition that we learn about the mystery of sacrifice, the mystery of humility and the mystery of love. It is in the disappointments that we learn that we are not actually in charge, we can’t always have it our way, and as soon as we learn that we learn that there is more to life and more to love and more to God’s mercy than we every imagined possible–and we really could not have learned these wondrous truths way down deep in our heart unless things had gone wrong.

When you enter the Catholic Church it’s like marriage. It’s for better and for worse, and like your marriage day–you ought to think that you are the lucky one. Not, “Isn’t she lucky to get me, but aren’t I lucky to get her.”

That’s how I felt the night twelve years ago when I was received into the Catholic Church. I felt very lucky indeed that I had been given the grace to take that step.

I still feel that way.

Marriage and the Church. It’s a mystery….but I’m not the first person to compare the two am I?
Where have I heard it before?