“You have to go to Mass to hear Father Ben’s homily.”
That was the message I got in text after text on a Saturday night a few months ago. Just days before, I had shared on my Facebook page the column I wrote about my struggle with the latest wave in the ongoing sex-abuse crisis.
“I’m done,” I had told so many of my friends. “I can’t do this anymore.”
“Just go and listen,” encouraged one friend. “It might give you hope.”
So the next morning, I accompanied my family to Mass—for the first time in quite a while. I’ll be honest, though. I didn’t expect much. I’ve heard the party line too many times before. I’ve reported all the different times the hierarchy said, “Never again. It’s going to be different,” only to have it happen again and things stay the same.
But I went and listened . . . begrudgingly.
A STUMBLING POINT
In his homily, Father Ben expressed much of the same anger I suspect most of us feel. He said he hated what those involved did. And he spoke of our need to focus on the bigger picture of our faith. Keep our eyes on God, not the hierarchy, was my take on it.
And while I left feeling better and somewhat relieved to finally hear righteous anger from the pulpit by someone also struggling with and suffering from the sins of others, something was still nagging at me.
You see, it wasn’t my faith that I was doubting. Focusing on the bigger picture was what was actually keeping my connection with the Church there—no matter how weak it was at the moment. What was troubling me was the confusion about the fact that there seemed to be no way of getting around the institutional Church. Sure, I could believe in the larger picture when it came to things such as prayer and the sacramental nature of the faith, but I needed the Church as a means to celebrate those sacraments.
I can’t consecrate the Eucharist. I can’t absolve my own sins. I can’t confirm my daughter. I need the Church for that. Where do I go now? I wondered. I can’t leave, unless I totally leave.
That was when St. Francis showed up. I have always seen Francis as somewhat of an outsider of the Church proper. For me, he
represents a more hands-on, less institutional Church. But he never turned his back on the institutional Church. He worked within it to spread the Gospel in his own unique way. Since I’ve come to know him so well during my years working with the Franciscans, turning to him seemed natural.
I found myself diving into his words and returning to my time in Assisi. As I did so, two phrases kept playing in my head over and over again: “Rebuild my Church” and “Let us begin again.” I reflected and prayed on them. What did they mean for me and the Church that right now I love and hate at the same time?
I thought of Francis, who, though he mistook God’s message to rebuild the Church as a plea to physically repair the Church of San Damiano, took the words to heart and got to work. Perhaps that is my calling as well—to get to work patching up the holes, shoring up the foundation, finding ways to get the broken parts replaced and renewed.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m not still struggling and feeling lost and angry. But for the sake of my faith that I hold so dear, I’m willing to give it a try. Thank you, St. Francis, for providing inspiration and helping me along the way. Help me begin again and be part of the rebuilding of this Church—our Church—that has fallen into ruin.