Those who form their image of the Catholic Church only from their online activities see a great deal of hope, and indeed, there is! However, the active, joyful, and even sometimes contentious drama of the online "St. Blog's Parish" doesn't even come CLOSE to comparing to the dynamics of the average real-life Catholic Church right down the road from you.
I say this with a very heavy heart. So often, for example, I will ask groups of people, or individuals about this or that very popular and well-known Catholic devotion. I receive in return, blank stares. Parents come up to me to complain that they pay for the Church to raise their children in the Faith and become very offended at being informed that the Church has always held that parents are the primary educators of their children and the Church, or rather, those hired (and hopefully qualified) to teach are there to AID them, not take over and turn their children into little Stepford Catholics.
When I first began in parish work, I was quite the little idealist.
Well, I think it's time to admit that my last shred of idealism has been completely demolished. Quite honestly, I'm surprised it lasted this long.
I used to love public speaking and when I began in my parish job, I went to work with enthusiasm, anticipating (quite idiotically and naively, actually) that those members of the parish who came to mandatory meetings might actually want to be there and look forward to learning more about their faith. (HA!)
Certainly, there are some who do fit that description, but there are far more who are there but don't really care, and others who are quite openly hostile and disrespectful, not just of the presenter, but of others who are also present.
I now dread each and every time I have to get up in front of a group of adults and teach. It doesn't get easier to deal with hostility and juvenile behavior of adults. Quite honestly, I would rather present to a group of angry, hormone-unbalanced middle schoolers than a group of adults with even one of whom has taken on the persona of her own hostile teenage self. (And you know, it's never the guys who are openly hostile in a parish: it's the women.)
I was really praying about this yesterday, and after a speaking engagement, afterwards as well. I returned home from work last night so disheartened and frustrated I sincerely considered turning in my resignation and casting it all to the wind.
Thankfully, although I do sometimes consider such crazy things, I don't tend to act upon them knowing that, quite honestly, it is pondering out of emotion and not out of reason, and certainly not making a decision from prayer!
In the Adoration chapel, when considering my change of heart with regard to the joy I no longer find in teaching adults, I once again had to consider the nature of what I am doing. When I taught RCIA, I was teaching a group of people who wanted to be there. Even if they weren't sure about wanting to become Catholic, they had a sincere interest in learning. Their entire outlook was one of good will, and even on points of disagreement, they asked questions and looked for clarification.
Then, upon working in a parish, I learned very quickly that although there are many people of good will and a charitable outlook, there are all too many who simply don't care. They are not open to receiving the message of the Gospel, they don't know or care to know why the Sacraments are important, and the response they send, loud and clear is, "This is not my affair; I'm paying others to do this, don't bother me by talking about Jesus."
And there, in that contemplation of reality, is where Jesus "spoke" to me, reminding me of His own experience of speaking to the crowds. How many times have I read, or heard proclaimed from the pulpit, the fact that crowds tried to stone Jesus, that they rejected Him, heckled Him, walked away, and returned only to beat Him to a pulp and crucify Him?
Have I not professed to love Jesus with all my heart and soul, and profess to desire to follow Him? Have I not written on this very blog, over and over again, that following Him is a sacrifice and in order to do so, we must join our own bloody footprints with His? Are we not called to unite our sufferings with His....especially when we are participating in His work on earth?
Before I went to bed last night I read more of "The Imitation of Mary", and it was as if these chapters were exactly meant for me as I passed through that darkness of near-despair last night.
"If you carry your cross impatiently, you only make it heavier, and add evil to evil.
The way of the cross is the way to heaven....unhappy are those Christians who turn to their own ruin what is intended for their salvation! They are like the thief at Christ's side on Calvary who blasphemed.
We often implore heaven to free us of our crosses, but we do not know what we are asking (cf. Mt20,22), for these crosses are a copious source of merit for us.
Where will you find greater fruits of holiness and surpassing virtue than in the shadow of the cross on Calvary?
Oh, yes, that was meant for me to read last night. But there was more:
What a joy to be judged worthy of sharing Jesus' sufferings in a special degree!
A disciple is perfect when he becomes like his teacher (cf. Lk6,40). Jesus, our teacher, whose perfections we must try to imitate, endured the greatest tribulations.
There are few perfect souls that have not been through some hard test.
In practicing the virtues which involve suffering we show God a more generous love than we do in the active virtues.
My God, great wrongs, imprisonments, or long cruel illnesses need not always be the lot of Your saints, but You have at least prepared other crosses for them which may not seem so terrible but which serve to make them die to themselves.
I wish I could reproduce these pages for you, for each and every word struck me like a sword to the core of my soul, chastising me for my unfaithfulness, reminding me of the cross I had willingly accepted, and yet, desiring to cast away upon deciding a bit arbitrarily it was just too heavy these days.
What I realized most profoundly, though, was this: Jesus went to the Cross for each and every soul, personally. We all go to Him for mercy and forgiveness, we all sin, doing violence to Him in choosing to rupture our relationship with Him in favor of some shiny bauble here on earth, or even worse, out of our own self-love.
In my rebellion last night, essentially what I did when I complained to Our Lord, was to tell him, "These souls aren't worth it. They are not worth my discomfort. I am not willing to bleed for them."
And that's when, interiorly, I looked upon the Cross, and understood what I was doing. By turning away from those I have been called to serve at this time in my life, I am turning away from Christ Himself, I am rejecting all the mercy I have received from Him, and I am refusing to show His own mercy and Divine Charity to others.
I am ashamed. Deeply, deeply ashamed.
So it is that this unworthy servant will return to work, carry this cross, and remember that all I suffer, all we who work in parishes suffer, is a direct participation in the Sacrifice at Calvary.
Thank you, Jesus.