A few days ago, I was on a train from Maynooth, where my pilgrimage group was staying, headed for Dublin, to attend the events of that day for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress. As we looked for seats on the train, the food & drink vendor was pushing her cart down the aisle, and we couldn’t go past her, so we just sat down in the nearest available seats.
A middle aged man seated across from two of my fellow seminarians asked if they were here for the Eucharistic Congress, and once he learned that they were seminarians, I, along with probably half of the people in the train car around him, could not help but overhear what he had to say about the Catholic Church.
The first thing he mentioned was that he was no longer a practicing Catholic. He said that growing up, he was “probably more Catholic” than my fellow seminarians sitting across from him:
“…we said the Rosary every night in the house, we never missed a First Friday…”
but that it was all imposed on him, it was something they just did, and often the priesthood or religious life was imposed on people too, and that was the cause of clerical sexual abuse, because those people were unhappy in their vocations. He said, that if the Church wanted the flock to come back:
“…the Church should let priests get married”
and not only that, but allow women to become priests, and coloured people to become priests, because:
“…a priest is no different from you or me, I believe that we’re all equal”
and he also said, since what the priest does is preach the Word of God to people, the Church shouldn’t limit it to men. He said that if the Church changed these things, and let people know about it, for example, by putting it up on facebook, and then people would notice and be interested again, and even interested in the priesthood too:
“… I know a man who would do it [priesthood] if marriage was on the table.”
Now, there are many problems with this man’s rant. My fellow seminarians tried to patiently point some of them out to him, one, by sharing the witness of his personal experience that celibacy is not an unhappy burden, but if lived rightly, is a source of fulfilling and joyful self giving. But the man wasn’t really interested in a dialogue, he just wanted to unload on someone. At the end of the train ride, he said that if either of those seminarians becomes Pope, or gets to a place where he can change things:
“…just remember this man from far away in Ireland, and what he said this day”
I unfortunately sarcastically remarked to two highschool girls sitting across from me that I would probably forget him before I got on the airplane. That was probably an unnecessary and uncharitable comment, and not true either. So I will remember this man from far away Ireland -but perhaps not in the way he would have imagined- that is, for the purpose of remembering out a perhaps less obvious problem with his ideas that everyone should be aware of in our lives.
Let’s consider his line of argument. He provided a reason why we should be interested in what he says – he proposes to have a solution to bring people back to the Church. He, being a member of the flock that has left the Church, goes on to point out a few things he’d like to see changed, and, only once these things he wants have been changed, will he, and his fellow lost sheep maybe take interest in the Church again. And so we, who would like the flock to return to the fold, should make these changes, should be converted, according to his ideas.
The essence of what he is saying is that: “it’s *you* that needs to change, and then maybe I’ll join your club again”. But you, and I, and any practicing Christian who has even the slightest grasp of a personal relationship with Jesus, knows that this man’s approach to evangelization is dead wrong.
The Church is not a club, it is the mystical body of Christ. Evangelization is not about striking a bargain to win membership, but about helping people have a transforming and personal encounter with Christ, so that they will be living members of His body. What is entirely missing from this man’s ideas is the truth that *every* Christian must undergo an internal and personal conversion to Christ, more and more, with each passing day. By focusing entirely on what he perceived to be the problems of the Church, and what he thought should be changed, this man took no notice of the personal dimension of being Catholic, which is perhaps why he reduced the faith to external activities.
His line of argument was basically the complete opposite of what one speaker during the Eucharistic Congress said about the Eucharist, quoting St. Augustine:
“I am the food of grown men; grow, and you shall feed upon Me; nor shall you change Me, like the food of your flesh, into yourself, but you shall be changed into Me” (Confessions, VII, 10, 16)
Perhaps we may not have the same ideas as that man on the train, but while we may think we know what needs to change in the Church, in the world, in other people, let us never lose sight that the first, and foremost thing that needs to change in the Church, as Bl. Teresa of Calcutta said when she was asked, is:
“you and I.”
If publishing article online please attribute source Serviam Ministries with link to original article.