There’s only us: Becoming the church we want to see

By Elizabeth Scalia | OSV News

My young sons were forever at war with each other, punching and kicking and otherwise giving their school some very good reasons to closely question me about the origins of various scabs and shiners.

I would warn the battle-bots that someday their parents would be dead, so they should stop trying to destroy each other and risk being alone at exactly the time they’d really want a brother.

This made no impression at all. One afternoon, the rampaging got to me. Announcing that mother had had enough, I commanded through gritted teeth that they were no longer permitted to talk to each other: “You will not talk to, you will not look at, each other.”

“For how long,” they wondered, eyes wide.

“Two whole days!” I seethed.

The younger son’s face immediately crumpled as he burst into tears. “But I want to talk to my brother!”

“Yeah, well,” said this mother of all compassion, channeling Baby Jane Hudson, “Ya can’t.”

The imposed silence lasted only a few hours before I heard them whispering, “Let’s ask together.” They came into the kitchen as unified supplicants, applying to me as I often apply to Jesus: “Please? We’ll be good! Promise!”

Both have grown into gentlemanly adulthood, and it’s lovely to see how close they have become. So, prayer works. Maturity helps.

I’ve been thinking this while watching good Catholics screaming at each other on social media — the uncharitable accusations, the vicious name-calling and the nasty, gossipy infighting that goes on daily between people who love the church, have strong feelings about how she should comport herself and minister to the world, and seem to believe that everyone who thinks differently is not just mistaken but sinfully-wrong-and-headed-to-hell.

In retrospect, I know my sons fought because they were strong minded and committed to their perspectives. They were also immature works-in-progress. My job was to teach, encourage, correct with a balance of justice and mercy, and to help them to advance in both faith and reason.

In truth, I wasn’t a clear and careful enough parent to help them bring their best thoughts and energies forward in all of their wild eccentricities and compassionate generosities. Because I was not, our house was often roiled and the children sometimes led with reckless anger and destructive behavior that advanced them in goodness and maturity not one iota.

You see where I’m going with this, right? I don’t have to paint you a picture?

We Catholics are fighting too much amongst ourselves. Our sometimes unclear, not-careful-enough leadership doesn’t always help the faithful bring our best selves forward, so that we may be a church speaking credibly to the world of Christ.

All the uncharitable anger we’re spewing at each other makes it feel as though we’re not advancing as a church, as a people or as a family.

Last November, Pope Francis addressed this very topic, saying to the assembly at Bahrain National Stadium, “If we want to be children of the Father and build a word of brothers and sisters, the real challenge is to learn how to love everybody, even our enemies.” He pointed to Jesus, “Jesus gives us the power to love this way.” Then, like a good father he urged us to “implore insistently, ‘Jesus, you who love me, teach me to love like you. Jesus, you who forgive me, teach me to forgive like you.’”

“I want to talk to my brother …”

I believe we Catholics do want to talk to each other, constructively and respectfully, but the bad habits ingrained upon us through a few tumultuous decades of culture warring have made us wary and unsure how to do that.

Still, we are a family. Our ancestry as Christians is long and if inadequate formation has left us feeling poorly parented, well, Jesus is always there. Mary is always there. We can look to them, and be molded by their examples as we strive to deal well with each other, that we may become as holy as we are called to be, and build the Church we wish to see.

We want a church of cooperation; let us emulate Mary who cooperated with the creator for the salvation of all.

We plead for a church of courage; let us, again, follow Mary, who said “yes” to unknowing and to mystery.

We want a church of justice; let us track Jesus, who is just.

We seek a church of mercy; let us learn from Jesus, the merciful.

We want a church in peace, let us study and internalize the ways of Jesus, who is peace.

The Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman said it succinctly: “Be woman. Be man. Be priest. Be Irish-American, be Italian-American, be Native-American, be African American, but be one in Christ.”

It is good to be united in Christ, so let us try. The alternative is to continue fighting amongst ourselves and — as I warned my sons all those years ago — face an emptier church with an emptier future, one without brothers or sisters to talk to.

Elizabeth Scalia is culture editor at Follow her on Twitter @theanchoress.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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