Yesterday I had lunch with a gentleman whose image of the Catholic Church was the abuse crisis and great wealth. To him that was all the Church stood for. Yet the Church is much more than that.
To me the Church is the people of God. We the people are the real church. We, priests, religious and laity make up the Church.
When I think of the Church I think of Father Beiting who founded the Christian Appalachian Project and touched thousands both Catholic and not; he inspired many to volunteer in Appalachia, an experience that often changed the direction of their lives. Many volunteers went into education or social service, often switching careers. Some became priests, deacons or sisters.
I also think of priests like Father Joe who loved to hear confession, ran the pro life office and continually pointed to Jesus in the Eucharist, Father Titus who prayed for healing with anyone who needed healing and also collected Bibles for the prisoners he visited on his day off. I remember Father Paul who drove two hours to hear confessions at our senior retreat, spent three hours in confession, said mass and drove home after 11:00 to say mass in his parish the next morning. There’s Fathers Bill, John and Tim who left successful careers to enter the priesthood. There are also young priests like Gregory, Matthew, Marco and Artur who sacrificed as all priests do the opportunity for marriage a family and career.
I think of sisters and teachers I knew; Sister Theresa who encouraged me to volunteer for a tutoring program thus setting the direction of my life, Sr. Carol who spent 5 or 6 years as a missionary in Bolivia and the rest of her life teaching in the inner city. There were so many teachers I knew who gave their lives to the Church spending their entire careers working in schools where they never made the minimum starting salary in the local public school, no matter how many years they taught. Many stayed after school until 5 working with students, coaching or in planning meetings all without extra pay.
When I think of the Church I think of Lee. During the 60’s she and her husband were instrumental in starting a Catholic parish in Georgia. She’s was an active member of our pro-life committee, going to fairs to pass out materials, the life chain and prayer vigils. She’s was an extraordinary minister who regularly brought communion to the sick and the hospital. She had an unusual ability to know when to visit the dying with a friend of hers who is a retired priest. At age 88 this retired nurse went to Louisiana with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina. She also was part of a Divine Mercy Prayer group and a rosary group.
I think of John and Bob two gentlemen who’ve spent decades fighting against abortion. Though stooped and slowed by age they continue to organize prayer vigils, pass out literature and recruit people to march at the capital or outside abortion clinics.
Then there are Ed and Joan. They both serve as ushers and extraordinary ministers. Joan is one of the head ministers at the 12:00 mass while Ed is the head usher. Both are volunteers with the local ambulance squad. Joan was recognized in the local daily paper as the volunteer of the year for the area. I frequently saw them at the hospital visiting patients when my mom was there. Two or three times a week I ran into them.
I also think of people like Dolores. Most of her life she served the Church working on almost every committee and project her parish had. She’s spend the past 3 or 4 years taking care of her husband yet still found time to bake for every parish fundraiser and shop for our food pantry.
Then there’s Harry, altar server, Eucharistic minister and lector. He helps to lead the daily rosary, cooks for our soup kitchen and works on every project that comes along.
There’s also the CCD teachers, youth group and CYO volunteers, those who run our food coop, those who volunteer in hospitals, lead prayer groups and pray with the sick. The list is endless and there are people like this in every parish. These are the people of God, the Church, a sometimes flawed group of individuals who struggle to do their best to serve their God and Church, to carry out St Francis’s call to always preach the gospel. This is my Church.