Church’s history is filled with many examples of seemingly mismatched combinations. While divinely inspired, the Church is still a human institution.
The Catholic Church is run by sinful people.
Now that I have your attention, let me explain.
There should be nothing controversial about that line. In fact, if we truly believe in the Gospel, then we should adamantly agree because we are all sinners!
Recently I was fortunate to visit Rome. Arriving in Rome, two things are immediately obvious. First, if you think driving in Boston is perilous, close your eyes in Rome. Little, manual transmission cars zip in and out of traffic with only the occasional blinker, and a horn is rarely heard. The sight is an ironic combination of both patience and impatience.
Second, regardless of religious tradition or belief, Rome is a remarkable city. The architecture, history and culture are staggering. Walking down a street, you pass structures and monuments that are separated by centuries and even millennia. Walk into almost any church, and you will likely be met with a stunning work of art or a first in architectural design. It is an embarrassment of riches.
In many ways, Rome is a city of excess. Yet, at its heart are the bones of St. Peter, a simple fisherman who was crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. Rome honors this humble follower of Christ with the largest Church in the world, St. Peter's Basilica, another irony.
There is an extraordinary history to the Church in Rome, and not all of it is praiseworthy. The Church's history is filled with many examples of seemingly mismatched combinations. While divinely inspired, the Church is still a human institution. Mistakes have been made, and mistakes will be made. We must embrace them, own them, and learn from them. One must not look just at the bad, nor must they look only at the good. We must look at both the challenges in our Church and celebrate the extraordinary work of the Church. It is in the work of the Church that we see the message of Christ.
Locally, Catholic Charities is second only to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in providing social services to the most vulnerable among us. Additionally, Catholic schools in Massachusetts save taxpayers over half a billion dollars a year in education expenses while providing students opportunities that prepare them to become competent, engaged citizens.
Peter didn't go to Rome to have a mausoleum built for him; Peter went to Rome to share the story of Jesus Christ. In our Catholic schools, teachers and principals show up every day as a living testament to the Gospel. Many will return in the fall to older school buildings that require attention or may seem structurally inferior to other public or private schools in the area. Yet, it is not about the building, it is about sharing the message of Christ. (Although, if you know anyone who wants to invest in these buildings, feel free to let me know.)
Students in Catholic schools learn that we are all sinners, even the leaders of our Church. This is not to shame them, but to liberate them. In Christ's passion, death and resurrection, he brought hope and forgiveness. Students learn that we must accept our mistakes, learn from them and work harder to follow the Gospel. This mantra is at the heart of Catholic education and a message we so desperately need in our world today.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.
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