I often hear people tell me that the Church has changed. Some told me that the Church has lost her ways. Others tell me that the leadership in the Church has misled, corrupted, and lied to people, hence leading us toward perdition and places where the Lord is no longer with us. Yes, I hear many negative things about the Church as a priest, especially why people have chosen not to be Catholics anymore. To be honest, too, I have seen not-so-pretty things within the Church that could scandalize, dishearten, or deter people from truly loving her. Yet, no matter what, my answer is (and hopefully, will always be) that I am proud to be a Catholic, especially as a priest, in the Church, because this has always been my place of refuge and rest through all the ups and downs of life. Perhaps you will think that I fit the stereotypical label, play the usual game, or sheepish in my thinking, but please let me share with you why the Church is always home for me.
Are there bad people in the Church? The answer is yes. There are bad people everywhere — any religion, any organization, or any society! However, these bad, rotten apples do not and cannot define the general and overall picture of who the Bridesmaid of Christ truly is in her identity, mission, and purpose. As a matter of fact, if we are really honest, each and every one of us has failed in our own ways of living up to the calling, vocation, and state of life that is given to each and every one of us to be holy, Christlike, and faith-filled. Therefore, to simply blame and reject the Church because of the failing of her children or members is to make excuses, negate, or deny our own responsibility and personal call to holiness. We can choose to let what seems to be wrong and negative hold us back or allowing that to spring us forward with greater commitment, love, and self-giving and sacrificial gift of discipleship.
Historically speaking, ever since Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and became a believer, a slew of his friends, powerful figures, and political families suddenly became Christians as well. From that time on, we can at least objectively trace things back to see the many corruptions, briberies, and mishaps in the Church that sprung from powerful families and people who tried to manipulate and wielded power both on the secular and ecclesiastical levels. Nevertheless, human brokenness, dissensions, disagreements, divisions, imperfections, betrayals, mishaps, and almost anything that we see today can be seen both in the Old and New Testaments, within salvation history from the Old Covenant to the time of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as the early Church. The usual imperfections and scandals of human brokenness are not some recent novelties or failures because we can see the vestiges of Original Sin at work throughout human and salvation histories. Even with our best intentions, we still fall prone to the egocentric desires of our humanity to be like God and in control over others instead of the good of the Church.
Did the Lord walk away when people wanted to do evil things to Him? Did he stop caring for the people who did not welcome Him? What did He do in the midst of betrayals, abandonment, and isolation? Our Savior and Redeemer stood firm and stayed on course with His mission for the greater good and salvation of the world. Furthermore, when the early Church was scourged with dissensions, divisions, simony, and similar crimes, the Apostles simply exhorted the communities out of love, but they never left them. Therefore, to simply walk away, reject, or think that the Church is no longer our home because of this or that issue(s) is to simply treat her as an institution or consumeristic mean instead of the family of faith where we truly belong and love.
Of course, there will always be people who, with their self-centeredness or false interests, end up hurting the reputation of the Church through their actions, inactions, or scandals. Yet, all these imperfections remind us of the continual need of faith, love, and hope to truly trust in the Lord and allow His loving grace to be at work. If everything is perfect, there would not be any need for renewal and sanctification. If we have everything our way, there would not be any opportunities to grow and mature in our Christian identity and discipleship. From the midst of many creative tensions, challenges, and opportunities for growth, we are able to personally commit our lives and willingness to seek holiness, renewal, depth, and growth through the love of Christ. It is so easy to become bitter or resentful, somehow think that the Church needs to be this or that, would be better if we were back in this time or that period, but if we truly study history, there was never any perfect period in the Church. There were always people who manipulated the system for their own welfare and gain, but there were also many saints that chose to seek holiness, true love in service of their neighbors and the poor, especially to preach the Gospel.
The saints never judged the imperfections in the Church or allow the ineffectiveness of her members to let them leave! They stayed and chose to personally give themselves out of love, seeking greater love and holiness in how to they live the Gospel and the evangelical counsels. They never left, they stayed and transformed the Church with real life-giving service, charity, and love that are grounded in true faith in Christ and real hope in His promise to be with us always. It is very easy to find the problems and dwell on them, or to point out what is wrong but remain indifference, judgmental, and self-justified without any real action and effort to make a personal difference through humble service and love.
I am not here to say that the human side of the Church is perfect! At times, we have caused harms to others, scandals among the faithful, and hurts between ourselves. However, to focus on the errors and mistakes without the commitment to give our lives to transform, sanctify, and plant holiness with our life of true loving service is simply hypocrisy. It is easy to look at the problem without being a part of the solution! For me, the Church has always been my place of refuge and rest in times of troubles and trials.
When the storms of life were hitting me from all sides, I found guidance, solace, and support from the Church, especially through her leaders and faithful. Even though we might not always agree on everything, they were there for me spiritually and humanly speaking when I felt that I had no place else to go. Even at times when I do not recognize the work of grace, I know that I am lifted up by many prayers of the people who might not know me but offered their sacrifices for those who are in need. As a Catholic, I always find more blessings, received more than what I could imagine, and find myself at home in the Church in good times and in bad. Even though there have been people who hurt or misunderstood me in the Church, there are also many people who journey with me every day as my brothers and sisters, lifting me up spiritually and fraternally each day.
I know that there is no perfect answer for those who only see the problems and try to find the reason to leave. However, I have always found the reasons to stay, love, serve and give myself to the Church and her members because of what I have received from those who were there for me when I had little or nothing. The Church is beautiful because of who she is as the Bridesmaid of Christ and because of the people who are in it. I love the Church not because they are perfect or easy to like, but because each of us are still trying our best to love, serve, and give ourselves in living out the Gospel. In the Church, I find a family that is connected by a particular culture, ideology, race, or nationality, but by the faith that lifts us up in times of need and blesses us so we can share our gifts with and for one another. In the Church, I always find a home to belong, to rest, to be loved, to be supported, and to try to give my best to God and to my brethren. Therefore, as many reasons why the Church seems to be bad because of the actions of some, I find as many, if not more, reasons to stay and make my spiritual family a better place for all. The Church is beautiful and loving because she has never abandoned me, and for that, I am grateful.