A few weeks ago, Andrew Sullivan, a senior editor of The New Republic, wrote an impassioned article that appeared in the op-ed section of The New York Times, entitled Losing a Church, Keeping the Faith. In his article, Mr. Sullivan discussed his ardent desire to reconcile his homosexuality with his Catholicism. In the end, however, he finds himself unable to reconcile the two and also finds himself, for the first time in his life, unable to attend Mass. Among the reasons he offers are his longstanding opposition to the Vatican’s labelling of homosexual activity as intrinsically disordered and his categorical disagreement with the recent document on same-sex unions. His article manifests the intense pain and anger that many gay and lesbian Catholics have expressed over the past several years.
Though the Vatican’s opposition to homosexual activity and same-sex unions is exceptionally strong, gays and lesbians are not alone in their struggles in the church. The past few years have been painful ones for Catholics, especially in this country. If you are divorced and remarried, you may feel unwelcome in your parish. If you are a woman, you may feel anger over the Vatican’s stance on ordination. If you are married, you may find yourself at odds with the church’s teaching on contraception.
But it is not just liberal Catholics who struggle. You may feel that the beauty of the Mass has been watered down, and that the mystery that you treasured has been taken away. You may think that too often the spirit of Vatican II is taken to mean that anything goes. You may lament that so many Catholics seem to disregard church teaching and tradition without bothering to learn or understand it. You may have been angered by the hierarchy’s increasingly strong opposition to capital punishment, or by the Vatican’s opposition to the war in Iraq and its support of the United Nations.
Finally, no matter what your theological bent, you may feel angered, confused, saddened or disgusted over the sexual abuse scandal. If you are a layperson, you may be angry at your pastor, your bishop, the bishops’ conference or the clergy in general. If you are a priest, you may feel tarred with the brush of scandal. And if you are a victim, or a relative of a victim, you may feel particularly hurt.
In his best-selling book The Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., offers nine reasons why one should go to church. They are: because it is not good to be alone; to take my place within the family of humanity; because God calls me there; to dispel my fantasies about myself; because the saints have told me so; to help others with their pathologies and to let them help me with mine; to dream with others; to practice for heaven; and for the pure joy of it.
In these times, I think, it is particularly important to focus on the third reasonbecause God calls me there.
The church in this country needs help. It needs single and married Catholics, and it needs divorced and remarried Catholics. It needs Catholics who protest at the former School of the Americas, and it needs Catholics who pray at Medjugorge. It needs Call to Action and it needs Opus Dei. It needs Commonweal and it needs Crisis. It needs conservatives and liberals, men and women, gays and straights.
As St. Paul wrote, the body of Christ does not consist of one member, but of many. And in order to be healthy the church needs all of its membersespecially those who feel in any way marginalized. The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you’.... On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable (1 Cor 12:14, 21-23).
How do we know this? Because in baptism all of us were called by God to be active members of the body of Christ. So while it may be difficult at times to believe that the church wants you, never stop believing that church needs you.