What is best in the church?

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Because this forum was founded to discuss both the good and the bad in the Catholic church, I thought I'd get a thread started on the good side of the church. For balance.

My position is this: I am a non-Catholic who has numerous Catholic relatives on my father's side of the family (one of my uncles is a priest). My father was raised in the church, but deliberately left it over the sorts of issues that concern Frederick Sharpe - the tendency of the church to use censorship and control to accomplish what would be better left to debate and persuasion.

Although my father is somewhat bitter over the church, he did a good job of not teaching that bitterness to us kids. I wasn't really aware of his feelings until I was a teenager, and even then it was only through hints and indirection. He saw to it I didn't inherit his experience. Neither did I inherit his reaction. He let me off scot free. (Thanks, dad!)

The first thing I can attest to is that my Catholic relatives are some of the finest, truest, best people on this earth. They are caring, good-humored, community-minded and humble. It makes me a better person just to know them. My uncle, the priest, is of a piece with them. His parishes have just loved him - with the kind of love and respect that cannot be coerced or commanded, but can only be drawn forth from the heart. And no wonder. He is a deeply good man.

If the Catholic faith were a truly a pernicious and evil thing, my relatives could not be such excellent people. If nothing else, it proves to me that the faith and the church can be reconciled to what is best in people, that they can share a space in the same heart and mind and be in harmony. To me, this is an outstanding and important fact.

I can remember well when my grandfather died. After the funeral, the family gathered around my grandmother. At one point, my grandmother spoke of her faith that her husband was in heaven. She had tears in her eyes. They were not tears of grief, but of immense relief, very near to joy. She was "sure and certain" in her faith. She trusted God completely to look after her husband in death and to reunite them in heaven.

It took me a very long time to come to grips with this. As I have become older and have seen more of life and its sorrows, I have come to see my grandmother's purity of faith in an ever-deepening light. As a young adult, I was quite certain that the beliefs my grandmother embraced were myths. Now I understand that the myths my grandmother embraced point you at the truth. She was right. She has been "reunited with her husband in heaven." It is just that heaven is a myth. Heaven, like any myth, is a description of the indescribable.

I see this as the fundamental duty of the church and its greatest value. It keeps the myths in their purity. It doesn't water them down or dodge their irrationality. It tells people they are true and it believes what it says.

It has also provided a haven for remarkable souls like St. Francis and St. Thomas Aquinas, both of whom spoke their own distinct and valuable dialect of the truth - and it doesn't reject either one. To me that is worth all the treasures of the Vatican.

The politics of the church are a distraction and a shame. They seem to be unavoidable and it is in the nature of politics that no one is ever pleased by them for long.

The best of the church is in my grandmother's heart - in heaven.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 22, 2000


- Puts this thread into the list of Recent Answers -

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 22, 2000.

Very beautiful piece, Brian. Makes me think about a lot of things.

If I may address a couple of points you made...

"If the Catholic faith were a truly a pernicious and evil thing, my relatives could not be such excellent people. If nothing else, it proves to me that the faith and the church can be reconciled to what is best in people, that they can share a space in the same heart and mind and be in harmony."

Perhaps this is my cynicism, but I tend to believe that these people (and many others like them) are "such excellent people" DESPITE the church. But then you've kind of made the distinction between "the church" and "the faith"; a distinction many do not make (myself included, up to a point in time).

That point in time where I was finally able to make the distinction didn't send me BACK to the church, it just re-affirmed my faith; not necessarily in Catholicism, but I regained much of the respect I had once lost for the faith.

Yes, the "treasures of the Vatican" bother me. Yes, the fact that, at one point not too long ago, the Archdiocese of Manhattan (NY?) was listed among the Fortune 500 bothers me a lot. Yes, it bothers me terribly that nuns must take a vow of poverty but priests do not. Yes, it bothers me that women cannot achieve any "spiritual" position in the church. Yes, the church's "reproductive rights" policies are an embarrassment. I find the church to be terribly hypocritical, especiallly when dealing with "its own".

Is it all politics? Quite possibly. But it's politics I want no part of any longer.

It affirms for me that these people are excellent people DESPITE the church; not BECAUSE of it. They understand "faith"; they not only understand it, they LIVE it, as did your Grandmother.

Thanks again, Brian. Your essays always make me think about something.

-- Patricia (PatriciaS@lasvegas.com), August 22, 2000.

here's how to control-the-ignorant-who won't seek truth for themselves. TELL-EM your the rep. for christ on earth--duh??


-- al-d. (dogs@zianet.com), August 22, 2000.

>> I tend to believe that these people (and many others like them) are "such excellent people" DESPITE the church. <<

Maybe, living in a culture that has 2000-year-old roots in Christianity, we tend to take for granted the basic message of Jesus, which I take to be:

- love thy neighbor

- turn the other cheek

- do not return a wrong for a wrong

- the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount

- the parables

- take care of the poor

- God loves you and deserves your love in return

I think perhaps that my relatives are such fine people, because when they go to church they concentrate on this aspect of what is offered to them as spiritual nourishment. Over the many decades, this message seeps in much deeper than any of the others. It is just so much more powerful that it lays hold of them and does its good work in the midst of all the rest.

But, if it is correct to blame the church for its blindness, clutching and fear-mongering (as I think it is), isn't it only fair to acknowledge its positive part in preaching the far more compassionate message of Jesus? It is still a pretty darned radical message, even now. Almost every church screws around with it, twists it around, mutes it down, or just plain gets it wrong a fair portion of the time.

Obviously, warped delivery or not, my relatives are still getting it. So, maybe we can say that my relatives are so good BOTH because of AND in spite of the church.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 22, 2000.

makes-sense brian--if you-get,thats what-counts.

-- al-d. (dogs@zianet.com), August 22, 2000.

Thanks for this essay Brian. Most of my family are good people, and I like the Catholics I know. I agree with your fundamental characterization of Catholics as people. The problem for me came when I really began to go underneath the surface, and get below, so to speak, what I had been taught. Then I really began to feel a lot of things I'd never felt before.

One of the aspects of Catholicism that interests me the most is how the Catholic faith and upbringing, or any authoritarian upbringing in general, creates low self-esteem and a permanent sense of dis-ease in the world for being humanly alive. I'm not expressing myself very well here -- but what I sense is that Catholicism brings with it it's own peculiar psychosocial disease that one has to really try to analyse if one is going to get beyond it and feel all right about who they are.

"I accept myself, I love myself, I forgive myself" -- those were phrases that were not allowed to me as a child. This is the crux of the problem with being raised Catholic.

-- Frederick (fred@sharpe.co), August 23, 2000.

>> "I accept myself, I love myself, I forgive myself" -- those were phrases that were not allowed to me as a child. This is the crux of the problem with being raised Catholic. <<

Gotta agree, based on the stories I have heard from friends over the years. The methods of the church for teaching the young can be subtle, cruel and often deplorable.

For instance a young woman I knew in college told me that when she was in a Catholic grade school, maybe age 7 or so, a teaching nun took her aside (and all the other girls, one-by-one) and showed her a white handkerchief that she pulled out of a lockbox.

The nun explained that this was her handkerchief and no one else's, and that every time she committed a sin, the handkerchief would acquire an ugly spot on it. Even hidden inside the box, God would see the spot and know she was sinning!

I find this an incredible thing for a nun to tell a 7 year old, because a child that age doesn't have enough information to be certain when they are sinning and when they're doing innocuous things. The rules just aren't that clear to them.

No one in their right mind sits a child that age down and explains in complete detail all the manner of sins adults are capable of. And it is rare for adults to reassure them that the most normal sins of a child are tiny blemishes and easily forgiven. That God may care if they eat an extra cookie when they aren't supposed to, but it isn't some evil blot on their soul.

The fact that these practises are used makes it certain that sensitive, receptive children will suffer in ignorance, and that boisterous, insensitive kids will probably learn hypocrisy before they are out of 2nd grade.

But, I had hoped to start a thread where a few of the more positive aspects of the church tradition could be discussed, from the point of view of those who aren't inclined to deny or varnish the problems. The church has enough apologists who refuse to acknowledge problems. It is important for the critics to show that acknowledging the problems is not the same as hating the church.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), August 23, 2000.


-- al-d. (dogs@zianet.com), August 23, 2000.

"It is important for the critics to show that acknowledging the problems is not the same as hating the church."

Brian, excellent point. If the Vatican could simply acknowledge that it has made mistakes, that its policies toward the world politically are erroneous, and that it is best to open its doors to free enquiry and rational debate, then I think we might truly see a radical church, a church of faith, hope, love.

The Church is its people -- that's the beautiful part. There are so many good women in the church who would love to serve as priests -- but they are not allowed access to this calling. That's not only wrong from a human rights perspective, its wrong to deny the Church, or its people, more people who will serve them.

I like your idea about the purity of the vision of faith your grandmother had. It's a good thing to possess, and I'm fundamentally in agreement with you that it should not be diluted. Yet I am also aware that a great many Catholics are bitter, disillusioned people. Somehow or other, the faith did not hold up. Someone wrote on the other, "Censored" board that the largest "religion" in America is actually lapsed Catholics. When those lapsed Catholics seek to engage in dialogue with practicing Catholics, they are accused of "catholic bashing" or bigotry, when in fact, all they are trying to do is open the door to acknowledging a few fundamental things.

The most fundamental thing that has to change is that the Pope is not infallible, and that the Vatican's canonical laws are not writ in stone, and ought to be changed to reflect the needs and actual growing enlightenment of a changing world.

And yes, al d -- it's a big load for a little child to carry. And it's a big load for an adult to carry -- this Catholic idea that one must be stainless, "perfect," free from sin. Until one can say "I accept myself, I love myself, I forgive myself," healing cannot occur. Personally, I think all Catholics need to say that to themselves as often as possible, because they have been wounded by the kind of abuse that occurs when children are asked to be what they are not and cannot be, and asked to understand concepts that don't make any sense even to an adult. It's just a punishing ordeal for any child to have to go through the guilt and shame attendant upon being told again and again that you're never good enough, that you're sinful and impure, and that any evidence of pride or self-esteem is a kind of sin.

-- Frederick (frederick@sharpe.co), August 24, 2000.

rite-on fredric,--hey if GOD/JESUS loved us so--much as to become sin--so we can become=righteous[in-right-standing] not peter- perfect!!---welllll who needs a rope a dope pope?? and if the pope is soooo perfect whats his =secret?? keep up the =good fight bro.--martin-luther=got-it-so go for your=freedom in christ!! and read your bible--don't take anyones word as =''written in stone''--seek & find for yourself!!

i like what st. paul said=when i'm weak--he--makes me strong]]

so where's any room for ''phony-holiness'' JESUS said='abide in my love''=not struggle under religious-traditions!!

when JESUS set's you free--your free indeed!!!!!

-- al-d. (dogs@zianet.com), August 24, 2000.

p.s. we the people are the church---not rome!! christs-body is people not a wafer!! gotta let jesus melt in your mouth--c'mon folks--wake-up!!!

stop being BRAINWASHED by a bunch of satans-servants!!

come out of apostacy---insult too LORD JESUS!!

and this saint thing--hey we're ALL-SAINTS!! AND GROW UP--THE MARY-THING IS =DECEPTION!!

1 LORD-1 FAITH-1 -BAPTISM sorry but mary can't save anyone-she was =HUMAN-A-SINNER LIKE=all MANKIND!!----sure GOD chose her--so did he CHOOSE the disciples--but we don-t pray to them-or-shouldn't!!

hey my bible tells me i'm a saint--so pray to me! DUH??


how many has catholicism=MURDERED??? CHECK THE RECORD--WAKE-UP!!!!!!!!!

oh gee no--biggee huh??---who was a murderer from day 1. ignorant-people get---ripped off!!

read the TRUE-BIBLE--not catholic--tampered stuff!

kick-satan out!!---bring back the TRUE-FAITH!!!

-- al-d. (dogs@zianet.com), August 24, 2000.

-- (booboo@awfulnice.co.uk), September 19, 2001.

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