On what do we base our faith? Over the last few years I have come across a number of people, who have told me that they have lost their faith because of a priest or minister's homily or actions; a decision by the pope, a bishop, or another Church official; an affront from a fellow parishioner; etc. I am saddened by the thought that people can put their faith at the mercy of humanness. It seems a bit risky and scary to me.
The Catholic Church is both a sacrament, an experience of grace – an experience of God's real presence - and a human institution. The Church as an occasion of grace is an uplifting experience filled with awesome moments of joy, consolation, strength, and community. The Church as a human institution can be frustrating, slow to change, undemocratic and flawed.
Some people may be distressed by this latter comment, while others may nod in agreement. Yet I am stating only a fact. If the Catholic Church had never done anything wrong, then why would our present pontiff, Pope John Paul II, apologize and ask for forgiveness more times than any other Church official in history?
The focus of my point is not that the Catholic Church has or has not made mistakes, but that our merciful God is much bigger than this institution with its human failings. Our faith needs to rest in God and not in a denial of human fallibility. So, then in what do we put our faith?
Personally, I am convinced that God (and God's Spirit) is with the Catholic Church. History would seem to prove it to me: as a human institution the Church would have faltered long ago under the weight of its own foibles, if God's Spirit were not with it. It is God and the fulfilled promise of God's Spirit that should be the foundation of our faith. The Catholic Church with its rich tradition, sacramental life, and spirituality, is the best way for me to grow in my faith and baptismal relationship with God and God's people. One should not demand human flawlessness in order to be part of the Catholic Church.
Recently we celebrated the feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was not just sent one time long ago, nor just once each year when we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. The Spirit of God is with us now and helps to enlighten and guide the human institution of the Church and its members - us. We, and all other churches, are in need of redemption.
We need to trust that the Holy Spirit is with us and with the leadership of the Church today. Along with trust we need to foster mutual respect. We do not have to agree nor understand in order to still have respect and charity. No human being is perfect and, since the Church is partly made up of human believers, there will be differences of opinions, mistakes and foibles aplenty. Will we allow our humanness to divide us, or allow the power of God to form us into a stronger faith community?
On what do we base our faith? Let us not make our faith dependent on someone or something other than God.