Friday, February 23, 2007

"Ordinary People"

I love this comment from Mark Shea's blog and what he would tell people that are considering joining the Church:

The main counsel I give anybody coming in to the Church is that "faith" means "you stay." The Catholic Church is and always has been the vessel of salvation for the *world*. That means that most of the people you meet are going to be *ordinary*--like you and me. They are going to have the ordinary tastes, prejudices, mediocrities, failures, and virtues of their time and place. There are, to be sure, great heros and extraordinary people in the Catholic communion. But to expect that as the norm and then be outraged and disappointed when it is not is, I think, great folly and, in the end, great pride. One of the things I came to appreciate very early was the counsel of Uncle Screwtape, who urges Wormwood to keep far from his "patient's" mind the thought, "If I, being what I am, can consider myself in some sense a Christian, then why can't these people next to me in the pew"?

Consequently, though I have been appalled by some of the sins that have been revealed in the ranks of the Church in the past few years, I've never been shocked. What did I expect? They're just sinners like I am, and I know what I'm capable of. In the same way, the stupid and tuneless OCP songs, the suburban Church of Aren't We Fabulous smugness, the Our Lady of Pizza Hut architecture, the True Meaning of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes homilies, and the other stuff that sometimes ails the Church has never been sufficient to put me off. Because they are all just reminders that the Church, thank God, has room for people like me and that this mediocrity and averageness is a sign of the tremendous mercy of God for mediocre folk like myself.

"Well then," it may be asked, "if the Church is so mediocre, then why bother joining her?" To quote Walker Percy, "What else is there?" After all, it is not the Church that is mediocre, but only we, her members. The Church is, curiously, something that exists before she has any members, because it is founded not by us, but by Christ. The Church is the spotless Bride of Christ, made so by the Holy Spirit in the washing with water and the Word. We, her members, are generally nebbishes and schleps. But she is glorious and beautiful, terrible as an army with banners. And in her all the fullness of the deposit of faith subsists, a deposit through which, by the grace of God, I hope one day to be made perfect in love of God and neighbor. But it is not my job to immanentize the eschaton. So I can be more than merely content living in this strange divine sea of a Church, whose members are, like me, stunningly ordinary, but whose soul, the Holy Spirit, is slowly bringing us along "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:13-16)

This is exactly why I am not scandalized by bad homilies, or bad singing, or when I hear of priestly scandals. It doesn't mean that I don't think they're wrong; it means that I'm aware the Church is made up of ordinary people, like me. If I consider what I am capable of, can I hold my fellow Catholics to any leser standard, even if they are priests or bishops? We are all human. We are all prone to sin. But yet the "gates of Hell" shall not prevail against the Church herself.

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