By John Fitzgerald
NOT TOO MANY months ago I was talking to a pastor of a different parish than mine. The topic of Catholics leaving the Church came up.
We both agreed that one of the big issues is the way they are leaving. You would think that the leaving would be very loud. Since the year 2001 Catholics have been reminded of clergy abuse almost everyday. All the major national newspapers proclaim the abuse in large headlines, local newspapers publish reports about clergy we know, social media joined right in allowing people to make inflammatory statements without regard to the veracity of the source. The Catholics that are leaving have been affected by this coverage and are using their feet to tell how they feel. They quietly walk away in anger, sorrow and disgust. How can you stop someone from leaving if you don’t find out they are gone until you notice the empty seat in the pew?
When I attended Catholic elementary and high school back in the ’50s and ’60s bible study was not often encouraged. My knowledge of the bible was limited to the little bit offered in high school and what I heard on Sunday morning. About 10 years ago I started to read the bible again. This resurgence led me to volunteering to be a member of the R.C.I.A. team in my parish. By the second year I was introduced to Lectio Divina which gave a greater depth to what I was reading.
When I left the meeting with the pastor, I started to think about our discussion.
It is true many Catholics have quietly walked away from the Church. On the way home, I realized something was tugging at my reverie. It didn’t take long before I remembered the story of the walk to Emmaus.
Very much like the sad, angry and confused Catholics of today, two despondent men were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walked, they discussed all the events that had happened in the few days before. As they walked, a stranger walked alongside and asked them: “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Though astounded that the stranger had no knowledge of the events, they shared their knowledge and concerns with the stranger.
The last thing they recounted was a visit to the tomb of Jesus and He was gone. At this point the stranger admonished the two saying, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” The stranger proceeded to interpret for them what truth the prophets told.
It was obvious to the two that the stranger was going farther but they urged him to “Stay with us”. He went and stayed with them. “And it happened that while he was at the table he took the bread, said the blessing and gave it to them. With that, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but he vanished from their sight. After this encounter they “set out at once and returned to Jerusalem.”
As we read this account, we realize that like many of us today, as we walk away from the Church, the two were walking away from Jerusalem or more precisely away from Jesus. They like us were sad, angry and confused by the events of the day. Rather than be with the group that stayed in Jerusalem (many of us are staying with the Church) they decided to speak in isolation about their fears and anger. They thought that the answer to their dilemma was with someone else in another place. They looked so hard that they did not recognize the answer. Jesus walked along side them. They abandoned Jesus, but Jesus would not abandon them. We can abandon the Church, but the Church will not abandon us.
If we choose isolation, we might not recognize Christ even when He stands next to us. Like Christ, the Church (by the way that’s us) should suffer these things and enter into glory.