Saturday, August 30, 2008

What I heard in the Catholic Church this summer

“The Holy Spirit would not let his Church go astray,” my seminarian friend repeated as we arrived in front of the Cathedral and tried to wrap up our conversation about Apostolic Succession, infallibility and the Catechism. “Yes, I know that no one has to look far to find examples of sin among the leaders of the Church. But ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church. He would not let the Bride of Christ as a whole be destroyed by the sin among individual members.”

Though I had been employing my usual degree of skeptical interrogation throughout most of our walk to town from Latin class, I was silenced at this point. I looked at his piercing eyes and gut-wrenchingly beautiful confidence, and I slowly realized something.

I didn’t believe what he was saying.

For the first time in my 25 years as a Christian, I realized that I did not believe in the power of God over human frailty. Instead, I believed that a God stronger than Satan and the powers of evil would ultimately be bested by mere weakness, by well-meaning but incompetent Christians who misinterpret him. Of course this had be true; my own life had already demonstrated the point many times.

“Wow…” I began, but found myself too tongue-tied to come up with one of my trademark smart-remarks. “That… that must be a great thing to believe.”

His eyes sparked as my attempt at sarcasm gave way to self-revelation. “It is,” he nodded emphatically. “Em, this is the Bride of Christ being led by the Holy Spirit; it is not a rag-tag gang of fumbling bunglers. And there are terrible sinners, but there are also Saints—real Saints, Em!—who are being made in the image of God, who have guided and continue to guide the Church. This is not a groundless place to put ones confidence.”

Our conversation had come to an impasse, and halfway through my time in Cork I finally realized where the fundamental difference between me (and for now I’ll just call it “me” rather than Protestants in general) and my Catholic friends lay. When the voice of the Holy Spirit collides with human frailty, they believed that the Holy Spirit would win out, hands-down, each time. I believed that human frailty could fumble and thwart any voice of the Holy Spirit, no matter how strong; God’s trump card in the end would be his ability to turn our fumblings into redemption, making the Holy Spirit’s work right now seem a bit superfluous.

The belief that God is stronger than we are frail… well, it sounds downright Christian. I imagine I’d be a happier person if I believed it.

1 comment:

Clifford said...

This post is amazingly insightful and timely for me...