The Catholic Church is a Beautiful Mess

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What is the Catholic Church like? To what shall I compare it?

A friend of mine struggled for years with thoughts of suicide. They were what you call “intrusive” – like these constant thorns in her mind. Whether she was tempted by them or not, they were there. This came along with depression and what we know now was something akin to bipolar disorder.

She went through everything you would counsel a person to go through to get better. She was in a ward for a few days. She went through therapy and stuck to her regimen of medication. But the thoughts, though blunted a little, were still there.

In confession, she told a young priest about her condition. He sensed that maybe there was something more going on than just mental illness. So they set up a time for her to come and be prayed over by him and a few others.

After they met and she was prayed over, her suicidal thoughts just vanished.

I remember when she told me about this. I was dumbstruck. Remember, I had seen her battling this for years. Then, within an hour of being with this priest, she was magically better.

We praised God for the miracle. After that, she went back to him every now and then to be prayed over if she started to feel a little worse. But like the woman who was freed from multiple demons in the Gospels, so too she was healed of these thoughts.

The priest who prayed over her was a very attractive, charismatic young man. He clearly had a gift not just for exorcisms but also for the work of ministry. The parish flourished under him. But a year or two later, he was removed by the bishop (his boss, essentially) and told he could not celebrate Mass.

This upended the whole parish. A long fight ensued, but over time it came to light that in private meetings he had crossed a few lines with the women he met with in private. Relationships had entered into the romantic. His charisma would tie them emotionally to him, and he took advantage of it at times.

My friend began seeing her meetings with him in a new and disgusting light. She thought about how he would talk to her, his small gestures like a hand on her shoulder, and she realized he had been having the same effect on her. Nothing came of it, but it was enough that she realized she needed to go back to therapy because of these meetings she had had with him. These were group therapy sessions, because there were a few women in the parish (and possibly beyond) that he had impacted.

It’s true, on the one hand, that the prayers of this priest freed my friend. She still struggles with aspects of her mental illness, but I have no doubt that God divinely intervened through him and relieved her of her suicidal thoughts.

It’s also true that he used his privacy and authority to take advantage of her and others in their vulnerability.

And that, my friend, is the Catholic Church.

Some think the church is all evil. They speak as though priests are only pedophiles. All they see are the Crusades, the Inquisition, Galileo, and extremism.

Others act as though the church is pure good. They lift up the saints of the past in unvarnished glory. They rail against modern culture and how far it has fallen into depravity in comparison to the church’s sterling standard of morality.

The Apostle Paul put it best, though.

…we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

2 Corinthians 4:7 (NRSVCE)

Walk into any church and that is what you will see: broken, fragile clay jars holding inside themselves the extraordinary presence and power of God. That is what the church has always been. That is what the church will always be.

I understand that this is too little for many. Our leaders sometimes fail us. The institution often needs renewal and reformation. As one friend put it, we wouldn’t be able to bear the stink inside the ark if we didn’t know there was a flood outside.

Yet the church’s frailties only mirror our own. As Pope Francis put it, the church at it’s best is a spiritual field hospital. It’s where the sick and dying come to be healed.

If you can manage to deal with the smell of blood, the moaning patients on morphine, and the unsightly instruments of surgery lying around, you could very well be healed, too.

©2020 Catholic Anonymous

2 thoughts on “The Catholic Church is a Beautiful Mess

  1. I love your analogy. To me the biggest problem with churches of almost every denomination, is a wanton accumulation of wealth. Many churches have been stripped back to their bare bones by social distancing. Suddenly big buildings no longer matter, yet I have still seen some particularly passionate preaching.

    1. We had Masses outside for a few weeks here. I still prefer the beauty of the sanctuary, but there’s also a beauty in simplicity. You remember why you’re there. It’s about Jesus.

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