The Death of Tidiness

If you’ve been listening to Time Magazine’s Man of the Year lately, you might be struck by an odd thing he keeps saying.


He wants a messy Church.

To wit: Pope Francis says in his papal exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

But what does this mean? This is the question for our hearts right now. The world is abuzz with thoughts and fears and misinterpretations of Pope Francis, but this is a good thing. People are being shocked by an electric Gospel, a living Word, a torrent of heat that will melt our frightened little hearts. The complaints and the outrage and the praise are all just the hum of this current at work.

I know my heart is being melted.

I think I have talked about this before, but something I struggle with in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is that my first instinct is, “I see the Truth with my eyes, I know it with my brain, I feel it in my heart; it’s so obvious to me! How could anyone miss this?”

I am in love with the Church because She provides an order my brain can wrap itself around, and She gives me new eyes, the eyes of faith, with which to see the world, and these eyes have shown me a world that works, a world that fits. And all I really want to do is pluck my eyes out, stick them in someone else’s sockets for a while, and, once they’ve seen what I’ve seen, tell them to go get their own pair. But it doesn’t work that way.

Here is the danger of being a member of the Church: We have the Truth. He lives in our Churches just behind our altars, he breathes through our Bibles and sings in our psalms. We have It. We have Him.

But only in a certain sense.

When I encounter people’s disbelief or skepticism or apathy, I want to simply access the Catholic Catalogue of Truth and check out particular truth-bits like library books whose reading will solve the deepest problems of people’s hearts. Problem of Evil? Not a problem at all – see Aquinas or Lewis, or, if you want the short version, see my personal notes on free will and the effects of sin. Oh, materialism? Again, Aquinas is your best bet, but this guy from the the Magis Center has a more contemporary take on the matter. Okay, now what’s next?

Boy, I can’t imagine how annoying that is to people. And I think it’s a tendency I need to learn how to fight (what some might term a growth in the virtue of prudence, methinks).

I think part of what Pope Francis is getting at, besides the imperative message to get out of our suburban lives and practice the Corporal Works of Mercy, is something the Youth Catechism warns us of. We must never use the Truth as a weapon (Youcat 457).

I want my truth to be tidy, because in my mind, in my intellect, it is. That part of my soul gets it, nice and neat, all doctrines with their place and every place with its doctrine.

But in my heart? Oh man. That’s a different story.

My heart is a tangled web of pride and lust and gluttony and fear. It is battered and bruised by my own sin and the scandal of the evils of this life. It is leaking blood and smells of rot, in constant need of the transfusions and washings in sacrament and penance just to keep my spiritual life from flatlining.

It’s a mess.

And this is where I think the Holy Father is calling for my conversion. We need to see each other in our humanity, in our broken-down, Savior-needin’ commonality. Because our God is too big for the boxes of my brain. He is too wild for the confines of this universe, much less my sputtering spirit. He is the Lion of Judah, and he cannot be roped down and made to do truth-tricks. He cannot be held at bay with whip and stool.

He will be He Who Is. He will be encountered in His entirety.

When I act like I’ve arrived, no one will walk with me. And I need companions for my journey. When I pretend the Truth is on paper, I forget He is a living Word that I cannot ever seem to pronounce correctly. When I want a theorem or a syllogism to prove His existence, He smacks me on my face and calls thunder on my heart with a sunset that splashes off the floor of the horizon or a snowstorm that drops crystals from clouds or a child doing somersaults in a womb that I have somehow been gifted with holding in the dark watches of the night, and He says to me, “My son, I am the God whose tears are the Nile and Whose voice is an avalanche and Whose steps cannot be felt but in the devastation of an earthquake. Don’t dare to presume you can ‘tell’ someone about me. Just take their hand, and have them hold yours, and quake in the majesty of my power.

“And then, when you have done that, when your world is shattered all around and what you thought was the bedrock of your hope and the foundation of your happiness lies all around you in smoke and ash, in rubble and ruin, only then might you begin to know the love for which I have made you, the love you thought you had ‘figured out’. Only then will others listen when you dare to speak My Name. Only then will others see Me when you call upon your God, and by then your tears and your whispers will be sign enough for them to see.”

This is my mess: that I point to facts about the Lion-God while He stands before me in His majesty, asking me to run my fingers through His mane. Let me turn to Him instead, and climb upon his golden back, and see into what fields He will run.

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