I told a priest I was so tired of the Catholic Church. I told him I wasn’t leaving, and I wasn’t apostatizing. (Where the hell else would I go?) But I was so tired.
Every encounter I had with Catholics lately seemed to have nothing to do with anything Jesus taught us. I was really rattled. It was murderously hot, and I was sweating and agitated, and full of righteous anger. Sick of the Church, and with good reason.
And he laughed at me. This old, old man with brown, placid eyes waved away a mosquito that floated by his face, and he laughed gently. Birds sang and tears leaked into my mask. We were sitting on benches outdoors, where a safely socially distanced confession could be heard, in front of a grotto for Mary. It was a place I had forgotten existed.
The grotto is a cool, dim spot behind the church, surrounded by trees. It smells of pine, and there are weathered benches grouped around, so you can sit and pray. It turns out they built it because a young boy insisted he saw Mary there. Did he? I have no idea. There is no record that I can find, other than a plaque mounted on the little stone shrine below the statue of Our Lady.
I had to admit, it was a place of unusual peace; a good place to calm down and recollect myself. I had forgotten it was there.
“You know, Jesus said the Church will last until the end of time. The gates of hell won’t prevail, you know,” Fr Bill said, smiling.
And do you know, I had forgotten this. I had fallen into thinking that Jesus was sort of trapped at the center of a clotted tangle of Catholicism, and that as long as I wanted Jesus, I would need to prove myself by fighting my way through that ugly, irrelevant tangle to be with him.
But that’s not really how it is. Jesus doesn’t just sort of put up with the Church, the way you or I put up with pointless rules and regulations before we can get our license or our permit or our degree. He’s not just with the Church because the Church is the hoops you have to jump through. The Church isn’t going anywhere, and its deep and ancient goodness, truth, and beauty are unchanged, changeless.
But sometimes we forget what we have, when we have the Church.