Click here if you don’t see subscription options
James Martin, S.J.November 10, 2003

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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
19 years 3 months ago
James Martin's "Of Many Things" about Andrew Sullivan's reflections about the difficulty being Catholic offers some important insight and challenge. I do not readily accept that we need "Crisis" or Opus Dei, but I think he could be right.

I thank him and America for article. It does not take a way the real pain and difficulty that comes with exclusion and encounter with those who seem unable to listen, but it highlights the question of what God wants.

15 years 12 months ago
I read Of Many Things, by James Martin, S.J., (11/10) with particular interest this afternoon, since I had just returned from church, where I was angered and disturbed by a priest who seemed to be presenting a point of view quite different from that of Father Martin. Speaking of the possibility of a schism in the Catholic Church, my Sunday morning homilist said, “Do I think it’s possible for someone who believes in the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of family, over a period of time to choose to survive with people who think it’s O.K. for same-sex couples to exist and be recognized? No, I don’t think that’s possible.”

This Sunday morning message seemed like errant nonsense to me. We are all sinners, and we all choose to occupy the same pews with other sinners. Since when do we seek the privilege of shutting our church doors to those whose sins, we feel, are worse than our own? And what will we do when the door is shut in our sinning face? Father Martin’s point that we are all members of this one body of Christ is well taken, and Christ invites us all to seek him.

15 years 12 months ago
I was profoundly inspired by the reflections of James Martin, S.J., in Of Many Things (11/10) on the current church situation that so many find so confusing. Without coming down on any one side of a thorny subject and avoiding negativism, Father Martin manifests enormous comprehension and balance regarding the many positions taken by the faithful at a time of ambiguity and pain. His column is free of anger or blame and generates hope for every constituency of the universal church. He should write this column more often.

15 years 12 months ago
The strength and beauty of the Of Many Things column by James Martin, S.J., (11/10) took my breath away for a moment. Its message of inclusion should be read from every pulpit. As a middle-aged, married white guy, I tend to be included in most things cultural and ecclesial. Yet it aches me to see family and friends leave the church because they feel uninvited by a church that sometimes lets its drive for unity become an obstinate push for uniformity.

I chair an archdiocesan pastoral council in Chicago. We come from all over the archdiocese to meet with Cardinal Francis George four times a year. At some of our meetings I wonder if any roof is big enough for the diversity of people that gather there. Yet there are moments, sometimes during a contentious argument, sometimes during prayer, sometimes at a coffee break, when it is clear that we, as Father Martin says, need one another and are needed by the church.

We are lucky to have an archbishop in Chicago concerned about division and committed to inviting the council together. The wider church needs such leadership, and could stand to hear Father Martin’s reminder that “in baptism we are all called to be active members of the body of Christ.”

19 years 3 months ago
James Martin's "Of Many Things" about Andrew Sullivan's reflections about the difficulty being Catholic offers some important insight and challenge. I do not readily accept that we need "Crisis" or Opus Dei, but I think he could be right.

I thank him and America for article. It does not take a way the real pain and difficulty that comes with exclusion and encounter with those who seem unable to listen, but it highlights the question of what God wants.

13 years 9 months ago
Since I am both homosexual and physically challenged, I know what it is to feel unwanted in church. But Father Martin is right I go to Church that is to Mass because God calls me there. After all did not our Lord say he came to help those who need righteousness not those who don't? Ironically sense discovering my homosexuality I feel far closer to God than I ever did before. My discovery taught me a lesson in humility that nothing else could have. Not even total blindness or Cerebral Palsy could do it, only the recognition that I needed the Grace of Jesus Christ to carry the full weight of my cross, could humble me. Therefore, I thank God for my homosexuality since it brought me closer to God and within His Holy Catholic Church.

The latest from america

A year after his death, a look back on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh—and his influence on many American writers on nonviolence, mindfulness and contemplative spirituality.
James T. KeaneJanuary 31, 2023
Pope francis at left shakes the hand of Congolese president Felix Tshisekedi
Toussaint Kafarhire Murhula, S.J., a priest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, describes the joy of Congolese people at the pope's visit and his hopes for what the pope's journey might bring.
Ricardo da Silva, S.J.January 31, 2023
”Hands off Africa!” Pope Francis said on the first day of his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Stop choking Africa: It is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.”
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 31, 2023
A file photo shows a crown of thorns.
The experience of the sacrament of penance in the Roman rite will be slightly different this Lent, thanks to approved changes in the English translation set to take effect in a few weeks.