Why do some Catholics stay?

Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

Five weeks after we began listening to the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the Lord’s Bread of Life Discourse comes to its conclusion in this Sunday’s readings. And like the church itself, in this summer of scandal, it closes with a heavy sadness. The teaching of Jesus—that he is himself God’s bread, offered to us—is rejected not only by his Jewish interlocutors but also by some of his own. “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’” (6:60).

Then our Lord tells us that heaven has always known that a line of division runs through the very heart of all men and women. Each of us must decide for ourselves whether or not to believe the words of Jesus, whether or not to receive him, as the Word, as the very sustenance of our life.

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This line of division does not conform to the boundaries of the church. As the church has always taught, Christ and the Holy Spirit move beyond her borders, drawing men and women to the Father. And within the church, there are those who never come to truly accept either the teaching of Christ or the nourishment he offers.

Within the church, there are those who never come to truly accept the teaching of Christ.

Jesus says to his disciples:

“The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father” (6:63-64).

Of course, the question for each of us, one that can only be asked and answered within the confines of our own consciences, is whether we ourselves have really accepted Jesus, not only in name but also in truth.

Drawing lines of division anywhere outside the self is of no use. Some of those whom we now know as abusers of children may have never accepted the Lord, not within their hearts. Many of them no doubt did, yet they still fell into terrible sin and committed heinous crimes. We can only respond publicly, with appropriate punishment, for what is public. We cannot look into the hearts of others.

The question for each of us is whether we have really accepted Jesus, not only in name but also in truth.

But what of each of us? Why do some of us gasp in horror at vile revelations yet respond with the words of Simon Peter and from within the church of Simon Peter:

Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God (6:68-69).

How is it that others leave, some with righteous indignation, even though the vile acts never personally touched their lives? Well, how is it that some indignantly depart over something as simple as a change in Mass time or a mistake in scheduling ministers? There are examples of vastly different gravity, but the indignation is the same. And the problem with indignation is that it draws the line of righteousness and unrighteousness between the one who is indignant and all the rest.

Why do some stay, even in sorrow, while others leave? I think it comes down to this: If you have been fed by Christ within the church, you know that come what may, you have no other home. To leave the church would be to leave behind the Christ you have come to know here, the Christ who continues to feed you here.

If you have been fed by Christ within the church, you know that come what may, you have no other home.

Many years ago, when he was still a Jesuit superior in Argentina, Pope Francis taught Jesuit novices to learn from the people whom they serve, most particularly to pay attention to their expressions of faith. In his papal biography, The Great Reformer, Austen Ivereigh records:

During the week, in pastoral theology classes and meditations, Bergoglio asked the students to reflect on their experiences. He insisted that they were not going to teach, but to be taught by, the pueblo fiel; the Jesuits’ capacity for inserting themselves into the culture they were sent to evangelize was “the decisive test” of their faith. “How difficult it is, and how lonely it can feel, when I realize I must learn from the people their language, their terms of reference, their values, not as a way of polishing my theology but as a new way of being that transforms me,” he told them. A major part of that learning was to respect and understand popular forms of piety: asking the saints to intercede, praying the Rosary, going on pilgrimages to shrines, reverently touching statues. Bergoglio encouraged his students to do the same. His idea, recalls [Angel] Rossi, [one of the novices] was that “here we have poor people, and because they are poor they rely on faith, and because they have faith, they are our center. Their faith, their culture, their way of expressing their faith—that is what we must value.”

Those who gather before Mass to pray the rosary, those who slip into church to light a votive candle, those who touch their favorite saint’s statue (because that is how we humans communicate with close companions), those who seem relentless in their devotion to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, those who are angry enough to stay away from Mass but cannot skip helping in the soup kitchen—all of these are men and women who have been fed here by Christ.

And what of the unknown young couple, asking to have their baby baptized? Maybe they are caving to pressure from grandparents, or maybe this is their way of recognizing that soon their life must change, must find deeper roots. Is the couple, married outside the church, who send their child to the parochial school, only opting for a quality education, or is this their way of staying near the flock, so they can eventually catch up?

All of these people know that “here,” the church, is far from perfect. It not only suffers the assaults of hell, sadly, it often enough colludes with the powers of hell. They are not complacent. These people know that hearts cannot be judged but that procedures and punishment do not need to read hearts to be effective.

They may be angry. They may be confused. But they walk into their parish each weekend, look up at the altar they call their own and say, neither with complacency nor callousness:

Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life (6:68).

This is not a license for their shepherds to take the faith of these men and women for granted. They are Christ’s own, whom he holds close to himself. Indeed, we the shepherds must look into our own hearts: If we cannot see Christ here, in the flock, if we ignore this Christ, if we allow this Christ to be grievously wounded, where are our hearts? For wherever they are, however calloused they have become, they no longer belong to Christ.

Readings: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b Ephesians 5:21-32 John 6:60-69

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J Cosgrove
1 year ago

The crisis in the Church is and has always been a crisis of belief. Is Christ God? Did Christ establish a Church and offer us eternal life. If you believe this, there is only one choice. Leaving is not a sensible option. The problem, and it is not new, is too few actually believe including many religious. If one believes they would act differently. How could you not stay if you believe Christ is the Way the Truth and the life. Aside: Did you know the early Church was not called Christianity but "The Way."

But to many the Church is just a social organization whose policies/members determine if it is desirable to belong or not.

Dennis Doyle
1 year ago

This essay by a young priest exemplifies the essence of Clericalism . He is taunting us. He says “why don’t you leave” notwithstanding the stench. He claims that it is because we found Christ within the Church and we believe we must stay because we will separate ourselves from Christ.
The truth is we don’t leave because we aren’t sure where we will go. We are too fatigued to figure out our next move. We drank the cool aid that said the sacraments were the best if not the only path to salavation. We know our ecclesiastical leaders were frauds. And we are hopelessly trying to sort it all out.
Forgive us Father for not being wiser .All we are now able to do is tell our progeny to stay away from cultism.

Donna Ellis
1 year ago

EXACTLY! Thank you!!

John Chuchman
1 year ago

False sense of security,

Vincent Gaglione
1 year ago

After reading the posted comments at this point, I know that the cynical reign in this period of discontent and dismay. But I would rather avoid the prevailing cynicism, so, for what it’s worth, Father Klein, I agree with you.

rnsh od
1 year ago

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Mike Theman
1 year ago

We see how God works to protect His Church, uncovering the homosexual sodomy culture in the seminaries and the male-on-male predatory acts of priests and their hierarchial protectors. All the while Mr. Jame Martin is out there essentially confirming that the allegations of the homosexual culture are all true.

I stay because God will drive the Devil out.

Crystal Watson
1 year ago

You conflate Catholicism and staying in this church with belief in and faith in God. People's faith can be strong and they can still want to leave this church - it isn't the only one.

Anne Chapman
1 year ago

Thank you for this comment, Crystal. You said what I was going to say.

I left the Catholic church about 10 years ago. I did not leave faith in God or Jesus.

I have been following the stories of sex abuse in the church since the late 1980s, when National Catholic Reporter started covering the crisis - years before the Globe story broke. The National Catholic Reporter stories were mostly ignored, especially since many "conservative" Catholics not only did not read it, but dismissed the stories as "anti-Catholic" , claiming that the NC Reporter was not even Catholic..

After 2002 I waited for Rome to act, to hold complicit bishops accountable and responsible for protecting child abusers. To this day, Rome has not done so, with the exception of Chile, very recently. The Pope's most recent statement still does not mention actions that will be taken against hierarchy who protect abusers, that will be codified.

I could not stay in the Catholic church because of conscience. As a lay person I have no voice in the church, no way of voting out bishops who protected criminals, no way to influence teachings and structures that are harmful. The 1.1 billion lay members of the church have no way to work for change, no way to eliminate clericalism, rooted in the teachings of the church. Pay, pray and obey still seems to be SOP.

As a child growing up Catholic, I was taught that "cooperation with evil" was a sin.

When it was clear that no action would be taken against bishops who protected child abusers, that Rome itself demanded secrecy and forbade calling in the civil authorities to investigate, I finally left. I felt that by staying in the church, knowing what harm it was causing due to clericalism, knowing what additional harm of other kinds it was causing through many of its teachings, I was helping to support the teachings and institutional clerical structures that were inflicting this harm on innocents. I finally concluded that this was a form of "cooperation with evil". I don't need the Roman Catholic church to continue the spiritual journey. There are many paths that don't involve supporting an institution that refuses to do what needs to be done. The hold that clericalism has on the church seems beyond reform.

Crystal Watson
1 year ago

Hi Anne :) I think that for too long the church has told Catholics that turning one's back on the church is the same as turning one's back on Jesus/God. Not true, of course. The kingdom of God is bigger than any one church.

Donna Ellis
1 year ago

Absolutely! By this point, one almost *needs* to leave to STAY close to and follow Jesus!!!! Those millstones are gonna be HUGE, and I don't want one round my neck; thanks.

Bruce Snowden
1 year ago

I choose to remain Catholic acknowledging that from the beginning, the Church was pestered by sin, the weird sins of Betrayal and Denial. I'm not sure if Judas was actually ordained Bishop - he may have left before Jesus said to the Eleven Others, "Do this in memory of Me" but Peter which in the laity was chosen as Pope by Jesus, his Office confirmed at the Last Supper, or as I like to say, the First Eucharist.
The whole thing is sickening but the Apostolic Church confects Eucharist, the Resurrected Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity of the Lord, a great consolation and can do so even in sin and the violation of civil law. I stay Catholic because of the Mass, infact the entire Sacramental Character of the Church binds me securely to it. With Jesus I try to love the sinner, not the sin.

Amber Angela
1 year ago

While none of us understand the census figures of Heaven and Hell, you are still enough of staying in the church that Jesus founded, assignment helper the one that gives the completion of Christianity. Surely, your salvation could strongly depend on it.

Sagar Agrawal
1 year ago

The troubleshoot sound is a very major problem for the windows 10 users.

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