She struggled to remain positive, concluding many a day with the words to my mother: Tomorrow will be a better day, Dear … And with that she would fall into a fitful sleep. And every morning my mother would greet the priest at the door with a lighted candle, welcoming not so much the priest into our home, but the Christ in the symbol of the sacrament. Every morning the priest would be there to have “Church” with my dying grandmother and bring her Holy Communion.
When I was growing up the church was never painted with idyllic colors; I knew early on that not everything was right under the steeple. I also saw dedicated people, evidence of a spirit of love, compassion and generosity. As an altar boy I joined my classmates in serving mass for funerals. We were reverent during the liturgy. Once the church was empty we would take the hot wax from the funeral candles, make wax balls and throw them at one another. Church was always a mixture of the sacred and the profane, the Spirit and the flesh as it were.
Sam Eaton – a self-described “millennial” – is either off on an immature tirade, or he’s on a redemptive roll. He “desperately wants” to feel passionate about church, but he rather loathes it. And he tells us why. The article he wrote has inspired some criticism from some of my colleagues. “He contradicts himself,” writes one; “he wants to be invited to lead, but then says: ‘Don’t ask us to lead.’” “There’s nothing new in [Sam’s] article,” writes another; “every new generation feels that they aren’t heard.”
I would concur with the conclusion that there is nothing “new” in Sam’s observations. I remember what it took to get a guitar accepted through the doors of a Catholic Church as the liturgical renewal of Vatican II began to settle in. I think we are often more willing to parse the consistencies (or inconsistencies) of other points of view than we are our own.
Here is what I know: Church played a roll in inspiring my older sister to be mindful of an elderly woman in our community. We found out later that this “needy, old lady” was actually living quite comfortably; no matter. Church planted seeds in our soul, even with all the shenanigans that were going on behind the scenes. Church brought a bunch of Catholics together with some Lutherans back in the day – ah … the risk of ecumenicty! Church had a way of putting life on “pause” – time for the liturgy or to say the rosary. We were sometimes bored, sometimes inspired, often distracted. Most importantly, Church homed in on the teachings of Jesus – and those stories stuck. Prodigal children and self-righteous religious leaders and arrogant power mongers and the emotional and spiritual danger associated with wanting to be the greatest or the first; the magic of angels; the harsh realities of hatreds played out in the murder of innocents. I read Sam’s article as something of a generationally-influenced cry – both descriptive and prescriptive – lamenting what Church has often become even while describing once again what Church can be.
A blessing; a communion wafer. A wing and a prayer. A vision for how we can be together. Sam can go on and on about what is wrong with the Church; and we can go on and on about what is wrong with Sam. But we all know this: Wherever people are intent upon following Jesus – whether they know it or not – there is Church.