I'm not sure where I first heard the suggestion that Christians need to think…
Finding grace in the midst of outrage
I have a confession to make. This column has been a tough one for me to write. I joked with my editor that I have been so angry at so many goings-on in the Church that, this month, it was almost impossible for me to find just one thing to complain about in 800 words.
I won’t bother to list all the things. You know what they are. Chances are you have your own list. Unfortunately, while other people have the luxury of not reading that article or not listening to that broadcast about the ecclesial outrage du jour, I’m on the radio every day. People call me to talk about these things. I need to know what’s going on. And honestly? It can all be a bit much. As I was praying about my column and my general spiritual attitude these days, I asked: “Lord, what do you want me to say? What can I say?”
The answer came in the form of a call to my radio program. A man named John sounded very much like me. He works for the Church. He loves the Lord and the Church. But every day he finds himself a little more demoralized. How could he hold on? As I prayed through my answer, I heard God talking to me as I was talking to John.
The truth is, until Christ comes again, sin will always be with us. It affects everything — especially the Church. That’s part of the reason the psalmist told us: “Put no trust in princes. … Blessed the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord, his God” (Ps 146:3, 5).
In my conversation with John, God reminded me that although, as Catholics, we must be willing to confront sin (both our own sin and sin in the world), our focus cannot be on sin. Our focus must always be on the face of Christ.
Focusing on the face of Christ doesn’t mean ignoring problems. It means finding the courage to face those problems with hope, with confidence and even with joy.
The Book of Nehemiah recounts the story of the Jews’ return to the Promised Land after years of Babylonian captivity. They come home to find Jerusalem in ruins. They struggle to rebuild the city walls, mindful of enemies on every side. Before reopening the gates, Ezra, the scribe, begins to read from the scroll of the Law. He reminds God’s people who they are. What God has called them to be. Mindful of everything they have been through, of all the suffering they have endured and all the work that has yet to be done, they begin to weep. In the face of their anguish, Nehemiah, the governor, stands up and proclaims: “Today is holy to the Lord! Do not lament! Do not weep! … Do not be saddened this day. For rejoicing in the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:9-10).
I understand that many Catholics — including myself — often feel like we are living among the ruins. And there is truth in that. But let’s not forget that this is still the day of the Lord and that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Looking to God’s face, and especially reflecting on the gift we have been in Christ’s Eucharist, how can we not be joyful?
This November, as we prepare for Thanksgiving, I’d like to ask you to join me in spending some time reflecting on all the past difficulties God not only has brought you through, but given you victory over. Write them down. Take your list before the Blessed Sacrament and praise God for everyone. Next, take that same notebook and write down all the ways the Lord has blessed you. Praise God for everyone. Finally, take some time to listen. In light of all these victories, in light of all of his blessings, how does God want you to respond to the very real challenges you are facing in your life and the challenges we are facing in the Church? How does God want you to respond to the pain, the disappointment, the frustration and all the rest in a manner that is rooted not in a spirit of despair or outrage, but in the joy of the Lord? A joy that comes from knowing that God has entrusted us, his children, to build up what the enemy would have others tear down. In the words of Nehemiah, “Let us begin the building!” Let us take up that work with great vigor (Neh 2:18). And may the joy of the Lord be our strength.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books and the director of CatholicCounselors.com.