“Why are you taking pictures of a church that doesn’t care about its people?!” were the words that rudely broke the silence as I was trying to inconspicuously take a few pictures of a magnificent old church near where I was visiting. I turned around to see a disheveled older man who clearly hadn’t had a bath, or shave, in quite some time. He went on with his complaints, ending with, “They don’t try to help. They just want to judge.”
Startled, and embarrassed for being more obvious than I had hoped, I blurted out, “I promise you, you are in a house of love.” Having no idea where those words came from, I was now feeling even more embarrassed as the situation veered a little more out of my control. I never expected to be thrust into the role of a preacher to the homeless when I innocently walked into the church that morning. My new friend paused for a few seconds to take in what I had just said. Then his gaze softened, and he asked, “Really?” I replied, “Yes, really.”
I was starting to feel good for doing my part to instill some hope into the hopeless when he broke into a rather toothless smile and asked, “Hey, do you think you could spare some change for someone who has none?” I guess he was now holding me accountable to my promise. I numbly reached into my pocket and pulled out the first bill I felt and handed it to him. His eyes got as big as saucers as he took the $20 bill from my hand. Clearly, it was way more than he (and I) was expecting. Next came a litany of “Bless you, bless you!” as he walked away very happy.
I would like to believe that I changed that man’s impression of the Church that day–even if just for a day. His complaints were really cries for help and compassion. He had wanted to believe that the Church would live up to its reputation as a sanctuary of love. When he didn’t experience that, he became disillusioned and bitter.
When experiencing divorce, we have all been like this man. Desperate, we turn to the Church and beg for help and mercy, trusting that it is there. Sadly, too often, we are disappointed. Don’t give up. No matter what your past experience has been, our Church has been a direct channel for God’s love and mercy for more than 2,000 years. And it still is. At its core is Jesus Christ–love personified. While it is true that in the past the Church has been deaf to the needs of divorced Catholics, change is happening. Your cries have been heard, and, like my new friend, you are bound to receive much more than you expected.
“When, however, this leaving one’s father and mother, and joining oneself to a woman, and going forward… when this love fails – because many times it fails – we have to feel the pain of the failure, [we must] accompany those people who have had this failure in their love. Do not condemn. Walk with them – and don’t practice casuistry [deceptive reasoning] on their situation.” – Pope Francis, Homily, February 28, 2014