Tuesday, June 5, 2018

What does it mean to represent the Catholic Church?

About a month ago, I was perusing a rather heated discussion on social media. In this conversation, someone referenced a particular well-known priest, and immediately someone else jumped in, indignant, proclaiming: He's not a good representation of our Church. My eyes widened, and I grew disturbed at the angry declaration that was made. Just a few days ago, I saw a similar disparaging comment regarding a famous celebrity who is Catholic. 

We seem so quick to accuse others, to say that they are "poor representations of the Catholic Church," and in doing so we forget an important reality: that the Catholic Church, from the very beginning, has been a motley crew of redeemed sinners who are striving to be saints. 

Experiencing the diversity and beauty of the Catholic Church
in Vatican City (spring 2013). 
Who did Jesus appoint to be the first pope of this Church? Peter, the Apostle who was basically a walking hot mess. Seriously, the guy was always putting his foot in his mouth, he denied Christ during the Passion, and he wasn't a polished and prim leader by any means. And yet, Christ gave him the keys to the Kingdom (Matt 16:18-19)

As we look throughout the following 2,000 years, we continue to see this pattern. A person encounters Christ, becomes transformed and starts living for God. He or she falls into sinful behavior, repents, and turns back to God. Repeat. 

Even when we discontinue certain sinful behaviors, we still manage to fall away from God in other ways. The spiritual life is not for the faint of heart. St. Maria Faustina put it so well when she wrote in her diary, 
"My Jesus, despite Your graces, I see and feel all my misery.  I begin my day with battle and end it with battle.  As soon as I conquer one obstacle, ten more appear to take its place" (#606).  
We see this reality demonstrated in the lives of countless saints.  Venerable Matt Talbot was an alcoholic for over a decade, and even after he became sober, he still experienced many challenges as he strove to let God-not alcohol-dictate his life. St. Margaret of Cortona lived with a man for nearly a decade as his mistress before turning to a life of penance and prayer. And then there's St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, who struggled with opium addiction for decades (his story makes me tear up when I read it-it's so powerful!). Don't even get me started about St. Francis of Assisi, who famously threw himself in a rosebush when he experienced an intense temptation. 

Even when these men and women continued to struggle with one-or several-problems, they still fought to know and love God better. In their lives, we see an encouraging legacy of hope. God continues to guide the Church, and He does so with imperfect instruments. We are all at different points in our spiritual journey, and we all struggle with various sins. And yet, we all can take refuge in this beautiful family of the Catholic Church. 

This doesn't mean that we should adopt an attitude of moral relativism and give a thumbs-up to bad behaviors and sinful actions. We need to fight sin in our lives, and we need to avoid scandal. We should recognize our need for transformation in Christ and live like redeemed people (for encouragement, take a look at Pope Francis' recent exhortation). In all of this, though, we have to recall that this life is a journey, and that our transformation is a process. As one of the priests at my church often points out in his homilies:  The Church is not a museum of saints, it is a hospital for sinners. 

Let's stop pointing fingers at men and women who we deem are poor representations of the Catholic Church. Instead, let's celebrate that there are men and women who, amidst their struggles, are still grasping for God. Let's pray for each other; not as distant people looking down from pedestals of holiness, but as brothers and sisters who are in the fight together. 


  1. Oh man, who on earth could actually claim to perfectly represent the Church?! Lol, people. That kind of infighting is just ridiculous. There are certainly people who publicly dissent and cause scandal. But we are certainly not made up of perfect people around here like you said. Very good point!