Brokenness: Conflict marks Church's history

Once an active parishioner decided to quit active parish life. No Mass. No meetings. He began to blame the priests. “Don’t preach well.” “They preach one thing and practice another thing.” “Politics in the parish.” “Priests don’t care for the people.” “They are not available.” He isolated himself from the people and started living a lonely life.

After a few months, in the winter season, his parish priest decided to visit him. As the priest entered, the man welcomed him without a word, went to the kitchen, brought out a bowl of soup and offered it to the priest. The two of them sat together and enjoyed the soup. They started talking about the weather (when we have nothing to share about ourselves, we speak about other things). Then, with an iron poker, the priest removed a piece of charcoal from the fire. Ash came over it. No more fire in it.

After some time, the priest put the piece of charcoal back into the fire. It ignited again and began to burn. The priest then left the man’s home. The man got the message. On Sunday, he was back again at church, sitting in the first pew.

My dear brothers and sisters, to be in the Church, to be part of a parish community means to be men and women on fire. Ablaze with the fire of Christ. Otherwise, we lose the warmth. We become cold. In togetherness we have life, and in isolation we have loneliness.

Regarding brokenness in the Church, I would like to reflect with you what causes divisions in my relationship with her (tensions, reasons for disunity, crisis, conflicts, etc.). What makes me remain isolated or non-active in the life of my local parish church, although I attend regularly? What drives my church? What am I passionate about in my church? What is the health of my church? Is my church healthy or sick?

There are lots of tensions that cause brokenness in the Church:

1. Tension between traditionalists versus change. The main slogan of the traditionalists is: Father, we’ve always done it this way. Father, this is the way we do it. We can’t change it. The focus is to simply to perpetuate the past. Change is almost always seen as negative, maintaining the status quo.

The creative, innovative people say: Father, we want to do something different. We can do it creatively. Being creative and innovative sometimes renders the established things as outdated and completely neglects the goodness in what we have been following.

2. Tension between various national, linguistic and cultural groups. This might affect the elections of representatives in the community. We are little aware that God transcends languages, castes, class, creeds. As Joan of Arc said, “In the evenings of our life, we will be examined on Love.”

Service is one of the the four pillars, along with the Eucharist, prayer and fellowship, of a healthy Catholic community. W. P. Wittman photo

3. Tension between priest-centered church and people-centered church: Priest wants to exercise all power, dominating, non-participatory, non-consultative. On the other hand, people want to have all the power. They want to relegate the role of a priest merely being a “puppet” in their hands. People write to bishops and provincials, asking them to remove a particular priest who does not suit the interests of the people and is not able to please people. We are choosy about priests.

4. Tension between those who romanticize priests and those who criticize priests. Our priest is the best priest. Why can’t he (another priest) be like this? Also, you can take them for a ride, take your priests for granted. Strict priests with a firm “No” often cannot feel with their people. There is also tension between those who focus on buildings and those who focus on building communities.

5. Tensions can arise if our church becomes only a parish of associations, more programs, more events, more activities and less importance given to faith, more importance given to socializing than to fellowship in prayer. The goal of some churches is to keep people busy, something is going on every night of the week. As soon as one big event is completed, work begins on the next one. There might be a lot of activity in those churches, but not necessarily productivity. If we call Sacred Heart Church (or any church) a vibrant church, it must be vibrant in faith, fellowship, prayer and worship. Activities are important, but they must be secondary.

6. Tensions in the church can be driven by finances, with the priest asks for money donations for everything and not giving spiritual values. He is only good at marketing skills. (On the other hand, people will see the good work, and they will come forward voluntarily to give money).

7. Most important, brokenness in a church can arise due to faith crises. Several issues are involved: Why do we need to go to a priest for confession? Why there are statues in the church, are we involved in idol worship? I don’t want to go to church, because there people worship Mary, etc. So, many people abandon the Catholic Church and join new sects and denominations.

But do not be heartbroken. The history of the Church is also a story of divisions and conflicts. Brokenness existed in the early Christian communities between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians over the food and the negligence of the widows. However, what comforts us, even amidst all this, as we read in Acts 2:43-47, is how the two groups of people lived together:

They came together for Prayer in the Temple (liturgia).
They came together for the Breaking of the Bread (eucharistia).
They came together for Fellowship (koinonia).
They came together for Serving (diakonia).

When we come together for Prayer, Eucharist, Fellowship and Service, healing takes place in our local church and in the universal Church. These must become the four pillars of a healthy Catholic community.

To conclude, consider the prophecy of William Tyndale, a 16th-century Protestant reformer and Bible translator: “I will destroy the Church in 12 years, the one which is built by 12 fishermen.” This never came true. The Church has existed for over 2,000 years; it has never been destroyed, and it will never be destroyed. For God has willed His Church, and He strengthens and renews it through the Spirit time and again.

Let us be priests, men and women on fire, ablaze with the love of Christ for His CHURCH.

FATHER SINGARAYAR is a well-known writer and contributor to The Priest. His articles have appeared in international and national journals, and he is also the author of the book Wellspring of Love. Presently, he serves as assistant director of Sarva Vikas Deep, a social work center in Maharashtra, India.