If you’ve followed Congress at all recently, and who hasn’t given the freak show that it is recently, then like most Americans, you probably hold a pretty low view of the legislative institution. Now if you’ve had some interaction with your own member of Congress, you probably view that person in a better light. This is the paradox of American federal politics: we hate “Congress,” but love our own Representative. It’s one reason, albeit a small one, that there is such little turnover in the House. Throw the bums out, we say, but let us keep our own.
With the rancorous debate over the extension of the payroll tax cut over the days leading up to Christmas, Congress and this great cognitive divide was on my mind, including when I read about Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George not so subtly comparing gay rights advocates to the Ku Klux Klan (covered by Kevin Clarke here).
When I read the Cardinal’s comments (defended here), my initial reaction was to roll my eyes and lament “the Church.” Another example of “the Church” being out of touch with its flock, failing to address the real life issues affecting human beings, and creating another baffling media misstep. George’s comments seemed so bizarre that I felt real anger at “the Church” for making such a wild and hurtful claim. This was Thursday night.
Come Saturday evening, I was preparing for a family Christmas party that would culminate with midnight Mass at a parish near my childhood home, St. Michael in Lowell, MA. My younger sister and I have attended Mass here on Christmas Eve for the past several years, and though we lack a formal connection to the parish, we appreciate the diverse congregation, the avuncular pastor, the thoughtful decorations, the talented choir, and the general sense of welcome and joy that the parish emulates each year. I left Mass with an appreciation for my faith, a better understanding of the consequences of Christmas, and a sense of peace to carry me through the holiday.
I’ve spent some time thinking of my anger toward “the Church” against my experience at Mass. I recognize the dissonance, and I think the Congressional paradox applies to my own feelings about “the Church.” I hear “the Church” compare gay rights advocates to a vicious hate group, but the pastor where I attend Mass regularly speaks eloquently about the radical inclusivity of the Gospel. “The Church” shouts “religious persecution” when it is deemed ineligible for taxpayer money for adoption services because of discrimination, but my parish holds a meanigful candlelight vigil on World AIDS Day. And “the Church” refuses to offer a message of hospitality if it coincides with gay pride week, though the pastor preaches passionately that all are welcome in his church.
Do you have moments like this? Do you cringe at “the Church,” but happily attend Mass and volunteer at your parish? Is this a “liberal/conservative” issue, with progressive Catholics disagreeing with a seemingly increasingly rigid hierarchy while still being able to find spiritual homes that they find welcoming or accommodating? Does the power that bishops hold unfairly make them “the Church,” inviting anger and disappointment from certain Catholics? If so, does this damage Catholicism’s “brand” both in the US and around the world? And with the looming demographic crisis the church will face in this country, with today’s young adult Catholics denouncing their allegiance to both religion and the institutional church, including foregoing involvement in parish life, what will neutralize the negative feelings toward “the Church” to these young people?