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FOR THE JOURNEY | We must recover those ‘recovering’ Catholics

Effie Caldarola
“I’m a recovering Catholic,” our contractor announced jauntily, as we were discussing work on my house.

It’s a phrase with which we’ve become familiar, so common that this guy we know only because he’s overseeing some basic repairs to our old house can throw it out casually.

Another common phrase in today’s parlance: “I was raised Catholic.” Often, it’s said with fondness. The people being interviewed are ascribing their beliefs in social justice, charity and right order to the years they spent at Mass or in a Catholic school classroom or gathered around the table for grace.

But let’s be clear, their comment implies, “I took the good part and left.” In many circles, to declare one is still a “practicing” Catholic is to admit to being old-fashioned.

For those of us who still place their faith in this community of saints and sinners, it can feel lonely. Many people around me are not going to church at all, and some of the stalwart Catholics I knew from my youthful days are dropping out or experimenting with Christian denominations.

I have a young friend who threw up his hands at the Church because he saw our leadership failing to embrace Catholic social teaching. The abuse cover-up was the last straw.

“But what about the sacraments?” I asked. “Don’t you miss the Eucharist?”

At a book sale, I found a used copy of Henri Nouwen’s book, “Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith.” This Dutch priest and theologian, who died in 1996, was a prolific writer. The book was published in 1997, before the abuse scandal hit the news.

Nevertheless, in his entry for Oct. 20, he writes, “Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it.”

He recounts “violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas and constantly recurring divisions.”

Whew. And he hasn’t even touched on more recent headlines.

But then he asks if we can believe “that this is the same Church that carries in its center the Word of God and the sacraments of God’s healing love?”

He speaks of the human brokenness of the Church, which presents the broken body of Christ to the world. Human promises are broken; God’s promise “stands unshaken.”

I love the Church because I love the communion of saints. I love the sacramentals, the sacraments, the mystics and monasteries, the heroes from Teresa of Avila to Thea Bowman, from Ignatius of Loyola to Dorothy Day, from Francis of Assisi to Edith Stein. Would this cloud of witnesses want me to leave?

I wish that young man would stay. We need him. We need him involved in the conversation, we need him prodding his pastor and his bishop. We need him finding the promise among the brokenness of an imperfect Church. We need the community of each other.

Peter’s plaintive words in John 6:68 echo. “Lord, to whom would we go?”

Effie Caldarola writes monthly for OSV News.

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