SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

If you don’t remember the hit number one song with this title by The Clash, from 1981, I am sure in these Google days you will be able to get it.

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double……

In the past week or so I have met a lot of people who are going through a difficult time in the Church. For the most part they are people who have been not only faithful to the Church but have also been quite involved in the life of the Church for most of their lives.

Whilst I have heard people give out about the Church over the years, and indeed they often had due reason to do so, it is interesting to note the different ways people are responding to bad news about the Church. When I say bad news it can be as recent as annoyance at Father Jim’s clumsy comment at Mass on Sunday to the latest scandal that has hit the Church. There is a crowd that I feel tend to use bad news in, and about the Church, to excuse them either partially or totally from Church practice. There are many others who will not be deterred at all by scandal or otherwise. As one lady put it, ‘No priest or bishop, no matter how bad their behaviour is, is going to come between me and my God.’ There is probably another group somewhere in between these groups.

The recent referendum results have rocked many people and at least have led to lively conversation about a changing and new Ireland. What of the Church in all this? Perhaps most important of all is the question what of me and the Church? Am I happy to say I am part of the Church? Do I have a sense of belonging to it?

Many have no longer any strong feelings about the Church. From a Church perspective I actually think this indifference or apathy is more dangerous than hostility. In a funny way if we care enough to fight about it, it’s still worthy of our effort and in some way continues to be important to us. Whatever about the healthy aspect of this holy argy bargy the growing ecclesial fatigue does not auger well for the Church.

To try and ascertain where we are in the Church is a timely if complex question. Are you too hurt to continue? Are you too disappointed? Are you angry with the Church? Are you ashamed? Perhaps it’s a bit of all these, and indeed more besides. Indeed somebody said to me recently that they were just bored with the Church, that it no longer did anything for them, in fact it just leaves them cold.

I think it’s very important to be real about this. This is a sad time for the Church. It is also a time to be honest. I do not think it’s helpful to start apportioning blame. The reality is that the Church in some very serious ways has failed. It has at times failed the most vulnerable. The failures in themselves were bad enough but the damage done was further exacerbated by our poor handling of these situations.

I can completely understand how people can become totally disillusioned with the Church and in deep anger and disappointment walk away. However I have a different view on how to respond. Yes I have been hurt by the Church, have been let down. At times I am impatient and frustrated by the Church. Yet in all this I have to say I have a deep love for the Church. At times this love surprises me. I marvel at times not only that this love is there but that it is actually growing. My love for the Church is deep and passionate. I am happy I am a priest in today’s Church. Yes whilst I am indeed ashamed of much of what went on I do not allow the sins of some in the Church to damage my relationship with Jesus. This is the core for me. At the centre is the deep personal relationship with Jesus which requires ongoing commitment. A very common thing these days is to separate Jesus from the Church. This does not sit easy with me. In fact for me, Jesus and Church are inextricably bound up. For all it’s failings the Church still brings Christ to me, brings me to Christ. For all it’s faults the Church still provides me with a rich encounter with Jesus. Yes for all it’s sins the Church is still beautiful. For these and many more reasons I am not going. I am staying.

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