Too oftentimes, we think that ministry in the Church is simply a power grab, turf war, or a set of different offices to be used for one’s voices, agendas, or likings. We treat the Church and her ministerial offices like checkmarks on our list, yet we remain very humanistic, secularized, and focused on quantifiable or mundane power instead of truly using our ministry in the Church to truly serve God and His people.
Of course, there will be times when we have to exercise authority in order to govern, teach, and lead the flock entrusted to us as priests. However, I do not think that my duty and office as a priest somehow give me the power to lord my will over others. I try my best to uphold the teachings of the Church as well as to help the people who are under my care to grow in holiness, but that does not mean I have the power to do whatever I want or will just because I can. That is a wrong way to do things, and it will lead to many divisions because it is based on egotistical and humanistic terms instead of the true desire to give ourselves totally and completely as the Lord would want us to be (either as the laity or clergy). If we remain humanistic, we can never lead people to Christ; instead, we stop people with our very own human limitations. Therefore, it is important to always remember that our true purpose and mission of ministry is not of power but of service.
I often hear many non-believers and antagonizing atheists blaming the Church for being power-oriented and hungry. They often gave examples of corrupted leaders from the past to show why. I am not denying that they were true examples! Corruption, simony, bribery, and different types of human weaknesses happened in the Church because of her children and their humanistic desire for power instead of service. Yet, to simply say that the Church is corrupt and there are no good people and genuine desire to care for the poor, distraught, abandoned, and forgotten is grievously erroneous and ignorant! To simply blame the whole Church and her continual care for those who are living on the fringes of society and her joy found the Gospel is very wrong!
As a matter of fact, there are thousands of missionaries who are working hard days and nights to care for those who have nothing else to fall back on. Furthermore, there are projects, initiatives, schools, and works done by the Church in places that are not known to us in first-world countries. In many places, the Church has always been foremost and upfront in caring for those who are forgotten by their own government and society, and to ignore all of that just to focus on the bad examples is hypocritical.
The priests, religious, and faithful that impacted the lives of the Church continue to choose to live the Gospel throughout the ages. They see the problems and weaknesses of people from different paths, stations, and stages of life trying to secure their powers and influences within the local and universal Church. As a matter of fact, power-hungry individuals are not only clerics but also laypeople, trying to seek power through the Bridesmaid of Christ. There are people who seek opportunities to attain influence in the Church so they can manipulate others or lord power over others, and these people are everywhere at every level of society, too. Perhaps they have all begun with good intentions, but if any of us leave our ego unchecked, stop remaining humble, be grounded in the Lord, and look at ministry as service, we ourselves will also fall into the trap set by the evil one and our very own ego.
Are there bad people in the Church? The answer is yes. There are bad people everywhere — in 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 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 allow that to spring us forward with greater commitment, love, self-giving, and the 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 beginning of many corruptions, briberies, and mishaps in the Church. Those earthly pursuits sprung from powerful families and people who tried to manipulate and wield 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 exhorted the communities out of love, but they never abandoned 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 means 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 for 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 thinking that the Church needs to be this or that, and 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 and true love in service of their neighbors and the poor, especially in preaching 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 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 indifferent, 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 harm to others, scandals among the faithful, and hurt 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 trouble and trials.
I always believe and trust that God sees everything. He knows our hearts even if others cannot see them. We can hide our motives, play with others, and disguise our true intentions, but He sees and knows our inner beings. Nothing is hidden from Him, and He will be our ultimate Judge!
Of course, we are all human beings, and we will fail at times — even with our best intentions. Nevertheless, we have to keep ourselves transparent, genuine, honest, and vulnerable before God and wise people who can guide us in the truth. If we do not have our moral compass set on the true sanctification of our lives, we will allow our own ego to guide us. It truly takes a sensitive soul to be in touch with God to know when to return and allow ourselves to seek conversion, repentance, and transformation when we have strayed away. Hence, this process is a lifelong one, and we will make mistakes and will need to be called back to the original mission, purpose, and way of life after God‘s own heart.
People who seek or hold on to power will end up being unhappy because they are not happy with themselves. They will always think that others do not know what they are doing and keep making mistakes. They get frustrated because they do not get what they want and angry because they are losing control at times. Power is like poison, and it kills the person deep from within! Therefore, as much as there are people who might misuse their power in the Church to serve themselves, we should not lose hearts. The saints did not! Each and every one of us can continue to choose what the Lord is asking of us to humble ourselves, seek, do, and live according to what is right and just so that the love of God and the joy of the Gospel are being preached, enlivened, and shared with everyone that we encounter each day. We should not let anyone or anything stop us from living in the Lord! No one has the power to rob our identity, mission, and purpose unless we allow them; therefore, we can always learn to pray with creative tensions without losing heart, for God is still needing us to be His hands and feet to the world. As much as people can get scandalized or lose hearts by the actions of a few, may we lift them up by our silent perseverance and joy that is found through true personal, sacrificial, and self-giving gifts of faith, hope, and love in service.