One of the topics that I think I need to write about every once in a while is the brokenness of the Church. Those of us in new media — we don’t do this very much… we keep a pretty positive profile on our output and sharing. And yet — most of can see and experience things that tell us that there is a brokenness in us. And if there’s a brokenness in us — there most certainly is some measure of brokenness in our Church. I would want to paraphrase what follows — and you may not agree with some of these thoughts that were just sent to me the other day. These are from the late author and speaker Henri J. M. Nouwen:
“Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it. Its history of violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions is there for everyone to see and be appalled by.
Can we believe that this is the same Church that carries in its center the Word of God and the sacraments of God’s healing love? Can we trust that in the midst of all its human brokenness the Church presents the broken body of Christ to the world as food for eternal life? Can we acknowledge that where sin is abundant, grace is superabundant, and that where human promises are broken over and again, God’s promise stands unshaken? To believe is to answer yes to these questions.”
Ah! Superabundant graces and God’s promises from here into eternity. Now those words give me hope. Those words add balance. Those words tell me the Church isn’t as dark as the bold letters shown above.
Let me share a couple of God’s promises that I have had personal experience with. There was a black priest from Africa. He came to Colorado to attain a doctorate in civil engineering. He is a Dominican priest and his order gave him his Colorado assignment so he could ultimately go back to Africa and work on water purification and land hydration issues. He wasn’t assigned to our parish, but he came as a visiting priest a few weekends — and he absolutely set people’s hearts on fire.
This priest’s name is Fr. Marcel Zibognon — and I asked him if he would satisfy a requirement that was imposed on me as a first year deacon candidate. I had to have a priest as a spiritual advisor. Fr. Marcel said he would be ‘so happy’ to do this with me. He said that we would learn to journey together and from each other. How’s that for refreshing hope wrapped in humility? He was exactly what I needed then.
Now here’s what I want to share with you. Fr. Marcel wasn’t always an on-fire Catholic. He told me that as a young teen, he was leading a life of self-pleasure, hedonism and that he had left the practice of the Catholic Church. Despite his self-centered lifestyle, Marcel got involved in a visit to France for World Youth Day. And as I I remember him telling the story, he got to be physically quite close to the Holy Father – and Marcel said he strongly felt something inside inviting him to give up his lifestyle.
Fr. Marcel says there was such Christian magnetism, radiated holiness and such a call to action that it was like an aura that surrounded Pope John Paul. That one exposure led Marcel to go through a profound life-changing conversion. He went to Confession, started back to the sacraments – he started praying about what to do with his life. And then he felt the call to the priesthood. And in the superabundant dole of graces from the Lord, Fr. Marcel helped dozens… no hundreds of us to try to be better believers.
The second story also relates to John Paul II — and I do this because it is my premise for this article that where and when necessary, God restores, rebuilds, shores-up or renovates His Holy Catholic Church. And much of the restoration comes about from abundant ‘infused’ graces.
Were you aware that John Paul II, as pope also did a World Youth Day event in Colorado in the 1980’s? Did you read or has anyone told you the effect that the Holy Father had on young people? We’ll never know the number of vocations and re-versions to the faith from Colorado, like Father Marcel’s experience that happened in France. But here’s another nugget.
There is a beautiful retreat center called St. Malo north and west outside of Denver. It is picturesque, surrounded by mountains and hiking trails through the national forests in that area. After WYD in Denver, they took the Holy Father up to St. Malo for a day and a half of rest and restoration. There are pictures of the Pope’s visit there. It looked funny to see the pope’s familiar long white garment on with tennis shoes sticking out the bottom. Down about 500 yards from the retreat center is Colorado Highway number 7.
Some former parishioners who lived near St. Malo told us that Holy Father John Paul was out walking along the side of Highway 7. Traffic was coming to a stand-still along the highway. Can you imagine Fred and Ethel driving along and Fred sees what looks like the Pope walking along the road? Ethel might reply, “Oh you’re crazy — a priest maybe – but not the Pope!” Well — it turns out to be true — the Pope was walking long the highway and spending time talking with astounded tourists. Think how people there at St. Malo were touched by his presence. And Denver which for a time had to close its one seminary now has two vibrant and very active seminaries. Two seminaries! Thank you John Paul the Great. Thank you Lord God for the abundant graces which passed from you through the late Holy Father.
Can those who feel that the Church is completely broken possibly, just possibly end feelings of dissatisfaction and remoteness from the Church and its leadership? Can we recognize the mostly invisible but all-too-powerful presence of Jesus in His Church? His sometimes broken, ponderous, centralized, but Christ-filled Church. But where Jesus is — and I hope you will see Jesus inside the Sacraments and in many if not most of the clergy — where Jesus is, there too is his Mother. So it’s not all male dominated who are hung up on this objection. And you ought to meet the on-fire and highly educated and powerful nuns in the Denver Archdiocese. You ought to meet the high-powered, in-love-with-the-Church-women of the ENDOW Organization: Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women.
One reason that St. Augustine cites for his entry into the Catholic Church is the never-ending, hope-filled prayers of his mother Monica.
Whatever your marital status – whoever you are – how about if we agree that it might be time to consider having two women in our lives? Holy Mother Mary can be one of them… and the other is the humanly imperfect but divinely powered Holy Mother Church.
Your Church is no more totally broken — any more than society is completely broken. There is hope built upon the promises of Christ: Behold, I will be with you till the end of time.