Sunday, August 11, 2019



By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called; 
he went out, not knowing where he was to go. 
Hebrews 11

Being a Catholic takes guts these days, but being a Catholic priest takes even more guts. Sometimes, it can be like walking around with a target on your chest! I have a long history of trying to defend myself from attacks. That’s why texts like the one I just quoted, one about the unshakable faith of Abraham and Sarah even in the darkest of times, are so special to me!

The first attack came the week-end I became a newly-ordained young priest. I was at a party, with drink in hand, wearing my new Roman collar and black suit. A young woman came up to me out of nowhere and started yelling, “Why are you wasting your time in that stupid Catholic Church? I got out of all that silliness a long time ago! I can’t believe anybody with any sense would still be a Catholic, much less a priest!” Then she started in on her well-rehearsed list of gripes about the Church for all to hear!

I stood there shocked and paralyzed! I did not respond with anger or start yelling back. I knew she was hurting about something, so I just smiled and walked away, saying something like, “Yes, you’re right I am certainly a little nuts sometime!”

Because I responded to her attach with gentleness and patience, her attack obviously ate at her for many years, because a few years back she showed up where I was having Mass, apologizing and telling me that she had found her way back to the Church and that she now loved it!

When I was a young priest serving in Wayne County in the southern Kentucky mission of our diocese as the first Catholic priest to live there, I was attacked often. I was thrown out of my first ministerial association meeting simply because I was a Catholic. I was verbally attacked, by name, by radio preachers! I was verbally assaulted in the Post Office, whispered about in restaurants and tolerated at meetings - simply because I was a Catholic. Even my radio program was abruptly canceled after the station had received bitter complaints from some local preachers.

Because, I responded to their attacks with gentleness and patience, I was able to melt some of that prejudice and turn it into esteem.  When I left there, the local paper ran a very affirming front-page story about me and my ministry during my time down there!   
When the sexual abuse situation was uncovered, I found myself ashamed to be a Catholic, much less a priest. Most people who knew me were very supportive, but I cringed more than once at cartoons in the Courier-Journal and jokes on late night TV. But in the end, some great things came out of that mess. After I overcame a serious temptation to quit, I realized that it made me dig deep into my reasons for hope – why I still choose to be a Catholic, why I still love being a priest and why I would choose it again if necessary!
These challenges to my faith have been a theme running through my almost 50 years of priesthood. These days the negative responses are much more subtle and a lot less personal. Personal attacks are rare. The attacks are more on the institutional church. However, you hear it in jokes about priests and Catholics on sitcoms and late night comedy. You hear it in the news, both by what is said and what is not said. You see it in the looks people give you and hear it in people’s conversations. It sometimes comes in bitter comments, dismissive snickers and outright ridicule.

So what are my reasons for choosing to believe? Why do I choose to be Catholic instead of some easy denomination? I basically have five reasons.

1.     The Church is an earthenware jar that holds a great treasure. I believe in the treasure, not the crock! Some people never get the message because they never see beyond the crock!  I stay in the Church, not because of the earthenware jar, but because of the treasure that it holds! This earthenware jar, the institutional part of the Church, has transported the treasure of Jesus Christ through the ages! Just as you cannot transport oxygen or even plain water without a container, our faith traditions cannot be passed from one generation to another intact without a container. We need the structure of the church to protect and transport that treasure!  Other churches may offer slicker packaging, but I love having the treasure “in the box that it came in,” even if it appears to be a little ratty and worn sometimes.  
2.     I stay with the Roman Catholic Church because I believe that it is apostolic, founded on the apostles, and passed down to me, unbroken, the one that Christ said he would “be with” until the end of time. I could no more walk away from her, even with her long history of sins and failings, than a good mother could abandon her handicapped child or a caring child could abandon her parents in their old age.  In that sense, I am not only “stuck on her,” but also “stuck with her!” 
3.     I stay with the Roman Catholic Church because it is “catholic,” meaning “universal and inclusive – worldwide, if you will! I try to be “catholic” myself. I believe in being inclusive in my thoughts, words, deeds and friends! I like to belong to something bigger than the United States. I like to be with people of all races and cultures. Why settle for one color of crayon, when you can have the "super, dupper, deluxe" box? Life isn’t as messy when you have only one color of crayon - when everyone looks alike, acts alike, and thinks alike - but it is a whole lot less interesting. I would rather have the slowness and messiness of a global Church than the coziness of a full-service religious community of like-minded suburbanites!  
4.     Yes, I often get discouraged by the container that holds this great treasure, but then I consider the alternatives. I think about a “new church,” a non-denominational Church, a “meet my needs” Church, a Burger King Church, one that would let me have things “my way” and I say “no!” I think about trying a lateral move into one of the established Protestant Churches, one that allows its members to believe basically whatever they want. After all, I have worked for the United Christ of Christ and studied at a Presbyterian Seminary. Even though I benefited greatly from both of those experiences, I have to say “no!” I think about my friends who are agnostic and even atheist. They all have a point to make and something to say, they all have a less stressful and demanding path than mine, but I must say “no!”  I would rather have the mess of trying to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic!
5.     In a world of the latest best guru and new age spirituality fad, I prefer to put my trust in something that is older than I am, something broader than my perspective, something deeper than a TV news bite, something more diverse than my opinion and personal experience. Rather than looking for a Church that will agree with me, I like a Church like ours that will challenge me and my assumptions and prejudices.

I have some good reasons for the faith that I have, the Catholic faith that was handed on to me, the Catholic faith that I have embraced and made my own! ! I love being Catholic – in spite of its obvious sins and shortcomings! I can take some heat over it! And, yes, I can respect those who disagree with my reasons for hope and choose something else! 

To those Catholics who cannot see the great treasure inside the sometimes aggravating and tattered container that holds it, I say this! Look deeper! Look beyond the obvious! Do not be taken in by the glitzy packaging of others! Do not throw out the baby with the bathwater! Do not be like that child at Christmas who throws away the expensive toy and obsesses on the box that it came in!  Keep your faith! Ask God for a personal revival of faith if it is sputtering and struggling for life!  Let nothing come between you and that faith! Heaven and earth will pass away, but God will not fail to keep his promises to you! Now, do whatever it takes to keep your promises to him!

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called; 
he went out, not knowing where he was to go. 
Hebrews 11

1 comment:

  1. You questioned, you responded. Your response says everything that is you. Thank God for you and your response.