Two important things have happened in my life in the last couple days. One has to do with me; the other has to do with the Pope.
In the last 60 hours or so, I have had my wife, my spiritual director, and one of my good friends each seem to imply that I am not perfect, particularly in how I try to share the faith with others.
I’m not sure where they’re getting this idea from. Sounds bizarre to me.
During these same 60 hours, an interview with Pope Francis was published which is causing quite a kerfuffle. Depending on your news source, you might have been led to believe that the Pope either ridiculed everything Catholics have done or believed for the last two thousand years, or he decided that the Catholic Church is entering a new phase in their history which will be known as the “Eh, Whatever” era, or, for those feeling a little frisky, that he was actually inciting a schism.
This was disconcerting for me at first. But when I read the actual interview, turns out he wasn’t doing anything like that.
He was talking to me.
Here’s the thing: I know my faith and my Church, and I am amazed at the truth it contains. I am amazed at how the Church has an answer for all of my questions, how Her wisdom illuminates every situation of every day for me, how She manages to persevere in the face of every obstacle and in spite of the frailty of Her members.
I just want to share that with people.
But what those who love me have been leading me to understand, especially in the last couple of days, is that what people need before (not instead of!) this is to see the face of Christ.
One thing that makes my skin crawl is when people talk about Christ and the Catholic Church as if they are separate, even as if they are sometimes at odds. I just want to scream, “NO! Don’t you see? They are the same! He is the Head; we are His Body! We are one with Him! He comes to us through His Church!”
But of course, many don’t see this, and for good reason. His Body, the Church, is crucified: it is ugly in parts; it is messy; it is bloody and sweaty and hard to love if you can’t see where it is going.
I want so badly to defend His Body for two reasons: 1) I’m a part of it, and I feel like I’m fighting to protect my own spiritual life when I do; and 2) I love Him, and I want others to love Him as well.
But I forget that people have been hurt as part of His Body. I forget that some don’t know what body part they are or where that part belongs. I forget that at times the finger yells at the wrist or the knee tries to amputate the shin, that the big toe just sometimes looks offensive to the eye, even if it’s just toeing along the best it knows how.
I forget that my place as Christ’s ankle is not the part that was scourged at the pillar or pierced with a thorn, did not have nails driven through it or a lance cut it in two.
I have been with Him on His journey, but I have not had to bear much of the pain of His Passion.
People will love His Body, but they must first fall in love with His Head.
They must first look in His eyes. They must first be kissed clean by His lips. They must feel His Breath on their scalp as He breathes in their hair, must feel His beard against their cheek as He whispers hope into their ears.
Only then will they want to step back and see the rest of Him. Only then will they be ready to be held by His arms and feel His chest heave against theirs as He weeps for joy at the finding of His lost sheep. Only then will they be able to clasp their hands in the small of His back and run their fingers over His scars, finally seeing that what once was frightening or ugly is now beautiful, since it was suffered for their sake.
Pope Francis puts it this way:
“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
His message convicts me. I am guilty of this crime. I don’t want to be meek! I want to be strong and loud and confrontational! But I also want to be “blessed”, and so I must take on this meekness, this gentleness, this compassion of the Shepherd if I want to introduce others to Christ.
I can change. I can tell people about Jesus and about how He saved a wretch like me, and then share the rest when the time comes. But it will be hard for me.
It’s hard to start there because that is the most personal and intimate part of my soul. It’s easier to talk about rules and doctrine, especially when the rules and doctrines are so very important.
But no one will care a lick about the Body unless they have heard the Word come from the mouth of Christ. I am only an ankle, but I can at least help Him kneel so the wounded soldiers of this world can better see His lovely face.