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Amidst the storm, hope lies with the parish church

Pascal Deloche | GoDong

Noise does nothing to answer the basic question: What can be done, really?

Provoked by old quarrels, by those who love war and cultivate hatred, St. Basil the Great likened the Church in his time to a naval battle fought in a storm: the waves and winds, the splintered ships, all of it darkness and disorder beyond description.

He was speaking, of course, of the Arian controversy, that early heresy, of its violence both theological and real. “What storm at sea was ever so savage as this tempest of the Churches?” he asked. Fallen upon the Church, a “darkness full of gloom and misery,” the wisest counsel, he said, was silence, because compassion was nowhere to be found.

It’s an image I’ve never forgotten in all my years as a Christian, both for misery and for comfort; misery for the sins, the tears, and the wreck we make of things, betraying the Gospel, humiliating the body of Christ; comfort, for the morbid knowledge we’ve been here before, wallowing amid our own squalor, faith surviving often only in spite of us.

And I’ve thought of it again amid our recent scandals, and especially amid the blogged bitter fights among bishops and theologians, pundits and priests and quarreling cardinals. The Church, already tinder, dried out by our stupid politics, opposing ideologies, and lack of charity: she suffers now just as in the past, in danger again of fire not quite Pentecostal, stoked by an anxiety for shaken foundations both dogmatic and cultural. An anxiety existential, it’s caused some to wonder where on earth or in heaven God actually is and what exactly the righteous can do.

Primeval questions asked anew: they’re what these scandals raise. Where is God? And what are the faithful to do? On Twitter and elsewhere, alleged answers abound. Canonists and cardinals talk of law and mechanisms, of investigations and panels, a synod is held, countless bishops argue, commentators comment—some of it valuable, some of it not at all. Most of it, though, seems but the noise of an unfruitful bitterness, the Church made uglier in this new ugly media.

It’s noise which does nothing to answer the basic question: What can be done, really? For those of us (most of us), who have little power or voice, we wonder what we can do to make the Church better, to be part of the redemption of Catholicism. We wonder what we can do now to help heal the Church as we wait out all those petty wars waged above us.

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