Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Institution and Faith are Not One in the Same

As a Priest of a happy twenty-one years, I have countless times ministered to brothers and sisters who have shared with me that they were mad or upset, or hurt by their Faith and when I uncovered the layers of that hurt, I have always discovered the same thing, that the people who are indeed the Church are not really mad with the core beliefs that sustain them but rather the Institution that is supposed to be embracing them.

Of course there are so many ways that this has been manifest in their lives over the years. Maybe by a parish priest, that sadly abused them physically or mentally or dealt with them and their family in the most un-Christlike of ways. Maybe it was a pronouncement by a local Bishop or the Pope that was so insensitive that it bore no likeness to the compassion and love of the Lord. Now, I know that the Institutional Church is compromised of humans and that humans are bound to fail, that has been and always will be. However, that can't always be the excuse to fall back on, especially in the ongoing revelations of the horrific sex-abuse coverups. Yes the Sacraments and their grace still work their wonders even when those that administer them show no likeness to Christ by their life or behavior. That is the greatness and yet the paradox of our Faith.

I want to make clear in these words to those that read them that if you are upset with your faith, you have every right to be. Yet do understand that you are really not upset and miffed at
the love of God that has been poured out into our hearts in Christ Jesus the Lord, but at the fallible men and women that steer this bark of Peter. I would venture to say in this country alone, there are thousands of thousands of beloved Roman Catholics who have taken a hiatus from the community of Faith simply because they are hurt by the Institutional Church, not that they are mad at their Faith lovingly bestowed on them in Baptism. And many have not made this distinction which is why, as a Priest and theologian, I wish to make this clear difference. Our Faith is a precious jewel that can NEVER be taken from us. As Paul says, nothing can separate us from the Love of God poured out in Jesus the Lord. Can a priest, a pope, a bishop,a pronouncement make us so mad and hurt that we have no choice but to depart and leave. Yes of course, because we all have our limits, and one thing that no one can judge is the primacy of our conscience. Even St. Augustine made that clear.

I know as a fellow Roman Catholic and Priest, who has also experienced the deep human pain of a cold non-compassionate Institution, that my Faith can never be touched or taken away from me. It is a sacred gift that the Lord keeps burning brightly in me and in you with His grace and no one, not one pastor or pope can take it from me. Does the Institution have much work to do to recover its moral stance in the world, you bet it does. But don't allow one person or persons in this Institution keep you from your goal of running the race as Paul so eloquently puts it. If you have been hurt, and many who read this have, seek a loving community of Faith where you can once again worship, where you can feel at home and rekindle your Faith that cries out to you to be re-ignighted. Or find a friend, or Priest that truly understands and cares for your situation and can set you back on the right path toward a spiritual rebirth of your faith. With prayer, discernment and time your hurts will be healed by the Lord. He wants you home with Him, He wants you in his arms. Remember as St. Augustine wrote" Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

There is no question that it is more than OK to be mad with the Institution, because that's how through the Spirit we can, and must enact the changes that are necessary to dispel the darkness and cover-up of the past, and these clear and present dangers amongst us now. Change comes from within, not above. It has not yet, nor do I see it coming from those who say they lead us. Remember the police can't police themselves to use an analogy. So take that desire for the terrible injustice that unfortunately may have been done to you and those you love, or those we know of, and allow Grace to bring forth the light of change this Institution needs. We are the Church, the People are the Church. It is not a building, a dogma or a hierarchical cast system. The Church is the Faith that resides in each of our hearts. Bring it out, place the Faith that is in your heart in your hands and make it alive again. All of us will be the better because of YOU, and so will the Christ. Don't be afraid to reclaim your Catholic Faith, because you will be so much the better for it, and so will each person in your life with whom you interact. Remember, " We hold a Treasure not made of gold, in earthen vessels wealth untold, one Treasure only, The Lord, The Christ, In earthen vessels!" God Bless each of us on our journies to renew our hearts of Faith and rebuild the Church that call us forth. Pace e bene!


estela du frayse said...

Thank you so much for putting into words the thoughts I have been feeling for over a decade now.

I was once, very much in the community of the church. This change when we recieved a new Parish Priest just before my first wedding. Lets just say it turned out to be a mess.

I have tried and tried to go back, I can't though. I grew up, learned more about the world and how the big 'C' Church dealt with our modern world.

I wish there were more priests like you all! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

As I read your "article", (for lack of a better word) tears came to my eyes. I never knew someone else could understand exactly how I feel. I agree with everything you said, & it's so comforting to know that I can still return to my faith & that I'm not alone in my opinions. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Repp,

Yes - you are truly indeed still a priest - for a priest is a priest forever. I remember you a little bit since I was a high school student at Our Lady of Lourdes in Miami where for a short time you were a chaplain. I am now in my 30's and deeply love my Catholic faith. The church never said you were no longer a priest just that you could no longer practice your priestly faculties. Let the flame of Christ's love burn brighter and brighter within you but do not do it under the pretext of a website (rentapriest.com) that commercializes so sacred a calling. Making money/Advertising for performing sacraments is quite different than when one offers a priest a freewill offering for officiating at a wedding. I don't know what terrible or unloving experiences you may have had, of course due to human frailty, but I do know that suffering and obedience for the sake of love has greater power than forging out on one's own. EVEN IF the Church was dead wrong on its demands of celibacy (and I don't believe this to be true), still the Holy Spirit has been promised to it. Christ's obedience is the best example. Please accept my comments made sincerely and out of love. In Jesus & Mary, a fellow Catholic

ROSA said...