Twenty years ago this spring, this statement was the main response of this nothing Catholic hermit's aunt when it told her it was converting to Catholicism. At the time, it seemed impossible and just yet another biased reaction against the Catholic Church by those who did not know Her from within. Yet over the years, it has proven to be quite true, indeed!
Yes, the Catholic Church is "a mess". The nothing Catholic hermit, within the first months, discovered some horrors first-hand in the initial parish. Over the course of numerous priests, the problems, personality disorders, sins of immorality of all types, revealed themselves, one after another.
The reality of Catholic-in-name-only surfaced time and again, example after example. The beloved Godmother, a religious sister, eventually revealed her and her order's penchant for radical feminism and steep involvement in a church dissent group. When this nothing declined to go along with it, that was the end of our earthly friendship. So much mess hit the fan--too much to detail--and only two years of Catholicism under the belt.
The next 18 years continued to reveal more and more mess as far as the experience could see and as much as the mind could shoulder...or perhaps shudder. You name the category of mess, the corruption, the abuses, the rude and nasty ill-treatment of those in the cloth and those in the pews, and there are examples to delineate: hard facts.
Yes, the Catholic Church is a mess. For a long time, this nothing Catholic hermit tried to hide it from its own children and friends and family. It hid its knowing the reality of the mess from the very priests who were steeply involved in some corrupt and immoral behaviors--right down to crossing the criminal line. And some of the mess was starting to ooze out into the public, especially the mistreatment of the nothing Catholic hermit in some instances in which the persons perpetuating the nastiness no longer cared what they said or did, or how they reacted in anger and vengeance.
The wrongs continued to flow like rushing flood waters, and then into the muddy after-bilge, robbing the good earth, stripping it from previously fertile fields of a naive hope for a bountiful harvest in what could be a sure and perfect picture of Christ's own Church on earth. And the condition of the mess goes on and on, parish after diocese after religious order after Vatican insider ills.
The Catholic Church is a mess because of us Catholics. We all sprouted from a seed, sometime, somewhere, and somehow we did not absorb the nutrients available. Or we got side-lined and distracted by others who did not absorb the nutrients available, or who fell to lesser or greater temptations and sin, and who got ourselves into envy or pride, or gluttony or sloth, or deception or scandal or intemperance or impurity of one sort or another.
Or we got ourselves into a state of mess and caused the distraction and derailment of others who became disillusioned because of our making messes in our Catholic lives, our Catholic parishes, our Catholic religious houses and seminaries and in our overall human lack of attention to detail, to obedience to not so much the rules, but to the Gospel Rule, and to the Sovereignty (and humility) of His Real Presence.
Yes, the Catholic Church is a mess, and yet this nothing Catholic hermit loves Her for many solid reasons. But the overriding reason is that in the Church, despite its being a mess, there is truth, goodness and beauty in the purity of the Faith in all its theological, doctrinal and Scriptural reality. It is the Church Christ founded and instituted on this earth, for us messy human beings, steeped in our messes, and adept and perpetuating by our flaws, even more mess, thus keeping Holy Mother Church in a state of mess for those either wanting Her to fail or those hoping beyond hope for Her to be pristine and perfect in the Christian ideal.
And the Church could be and should be pristine and perfect in the Christian ideal, if it weren't for us people bringing our messes to muddy the image and also the reality.
Yet the reason there is such love in this nothing Catholic hermit, despite having seemingly more than its share of persecution, abuse, and mishaps from the mess, is that there is hope. There is such hope alive and possible in the pureness of the faith, and the faith and hope enkindle such love that it is futile to think of being anything other than one of the souls embodied in very human and imperfect flesh, who has the potential to either add to the mess or to be a seed in the mud, striving to grow beyond the mess of its own and others' contribution to the mess. Yes, nothing Catholic hermit is a mess, as well.
A familiar symbol in the first few centuries for faith, hope and love were a beam, a light, and a disk. This nothing Catholic hermit desires to be a flashlight held in the Hands of His Real Presence, through which a beam of light shines and creates a disk at the end of the beam, a disk of light shining brightly and visibly against a wall--perhaps that of a temporal Catholic Church, or at least of the mystical Church. And that disk of light becomes a beacon of His Love, of His Love of our messy souls trying to become beams of light-into-pure-light-disks of love to expose our mess and purify our mess, our individual and collective mess that sullies the Church--His Church, our Church. Our Holy Catholic Church.
There is nothing stopping the nothing Catholic hermit from striving in faith, hope, and love: beam, light, disk. (The disk rather shines like His Real Presence in the species of a Host, does it not?) Become one with that Host! Seek union with His Real Presence in Body and Spirit! Even though we may falter time and again, as our human conditions can grow weary with slogging through our own muddy mess of interior ineptitude and exterior rude-and-crude and all vices in and out: We can try.
We have the virtues of faith, hope, and love to call upon, and these three are given us for the asking, by His grace. He will never refuse us these, and by these we will be held as a flashlight in Jesus' Hands, and He will focus us time and again for the asking. Beam, light, disk. It can happen, soul by soul. And this is how we can strive to be a little less of a mess, and how one by one and bit by bit, we can keep that faith, hope, and love alive to strive for these ideals of virtue-grace living even if the growth is slow and imperceptible to ourselves, like the seeds in the mud, gradually making progress to reach the sunlight and fresh air.
If one can fall into a mess of a house, deceived by some vice-mess in others and naive self-blunder, and learn to slowly dig through the mess and work hard to turn it around, clean it out, make progress even if might not be able to finish and surely not to remain after it is fresh and all things made new--and adapt to, have gratitude, and love for a place to be allowed to exist and seek God--then one can do far better of itself for Christ and His Church.
Sure worth this nothing Catholic hermit's continuous efforts, for we are all part of our mess. Yet we cannot do other than dig in to our own lives and souls to begin clearing the mess, vice by vice, into virtue upon virtue. Humility is key, unto love.
The Catholic Church is a mess, and this nothing Catholic hermit loves Her so! Faith, Hope, and Love. As the apostle writes, the greatest of these is love.