The man scoffed when I mentioned I was going to Mass. There was venom in his eyes. “How can you be a Catholic? That church is just a bunch of hypocrites and pedophiles.”
We’ve all heard that kind of thing. And I find it odd. Even though our culture doesn’t condemn public education because of the wrong doing of some teachers; and the culture doesn’t condemn the postal service just because some employees have “gone postal;” our culture likes to bash the entire Catholic Church over the wrongdoings of some priests or over the hypocrisy of some who sit in the pews.
But the truth is that every social or religious institution contains both the good and the bad. The history of the Judeo-Christian faith is a story of leaders who have gone astray and times when the Chosen People turned their backs on God. It is a see-saw history. One minute the people are following God and obeying His laws. They are humble, contrite and worshipful. The next minute they have abandoned their faith and are singing to idols.
As for leaders of faith, the story isn’t much better. In the Old Testament, David was a great leader and wrote powerful psalms. But then he lusted for a neighbor’s wife and arranged to have her husband killed. That’s pretty atrocious behavior! And his son, Solomon, was sought after as the wisest man in history. Yet he married numerous pagan wives and was responsible for the growth of idol worship in his country.
Then in the New Testament, we hear about Peter. In the reading this Sunday we heard that Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior and the Son of God. It was a profound leap of faith to state this belief out loud. Yet, when Jesus tells His followers that He will suffer and die as a part of the plan of Salvation, Peter says, “Oh no. We won’t let that happen.” The words sound like a worldly temptation to Jesus and Peter is severely rebuked.
The point is: progress in faith tends to follow the pattern of 2-1=1 growth. We take two steps forward and one step backward. When toddlers are learning to walk they take a few steps and then go back to crawling. Then they’ll walk for awhile with great independence and the next thing we know, they are reaching up asking to be carried!
We make progress, and then we sin. This is not big news. What is profoundly true, and awe-inspiring, is that our church perseveres. In spite of sin and persecution, in spite of hypocrisy and a few bad leaders, the church keeps on going. As the body of Christ, the church has existed for 2000 years and it will exist until the end of time!
We don’t go to church to be inspired by a powerful, charismatic priest. We don’t go to church to show off our goodness or bask in the powerful goodness of the other people. We certainly don’t go to church because we are people who never sin. Instead, we come before the only One deserving of worship to beg His forgiveness. We go to church for guidance from His words and through His sacraments.
I am proud to be a member of the church begun by Christ so long ago which shines a light in our world today.
So the next time someone says, “How can you be a Catholic when they are all a bunch of hypocrites” you can say, “We are all less than perfect people. I go to church for the help I need to be better.”