During a recent trip out to Anaheim, Calif., to attend the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, a spectacularly diverse gathering of catechists, parishioners, youth and speakers, I was able to spend a day with my family.
It was the first time that all of my siblings had been together in several years, and it comprised a spectacularly diverse gathering in its own right. There was a bit more gray hair than last time, and the tales of joys and challenges included a baby boomer litany of medical woes. My mom tolerated the noise of 17 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and spouses enjoying a loud, long meal together.
Before the event, however, my wife had warned me that “I can’t fix anything.” She is an eldest child, as am I, and she knows my desire to fix everything because she shares it. Most eldest children come with the “fix-it” gene hardwired into their DNA. It is part of our neurotic competency, at least when it comes to our fellow siblings, who do not seem as nearly impressed by this inclination as we may be.
Most of the time families are not for fixing. They are a reminder, however, that stories of unemployment or underemployment, lack of health insurance or chronic problems of any sort are not just fodder for headlines and campaign speeches.
There is real hurt out there, and lots of the so-called fixes being suggested are laughably disconnected from what real people are suffering.
Not fixing things is mightily frustrating, however. It’s like folks who watch cable news and keep shouting at the television. Everything looks so obvious from the vantage point of the easy chair, until we actually talk to the people involved.
I’ve had the same thought about the Catholic Church recently. Somehow, this papal transition has been a green light for everyone to chip in their pound of blather about what is wrong with the Church and what it will take to fix it.
A lot of it comes from secular media who are using the occasion to take their whacks at a hated foe, or who more often simply look at the world through a completely different prism, unable to understand the Church as it understands itself.
But a lot of the crabbiness that is in the air also comes from us: people who love the Church but want it to be better. We may take it the hardest of all when one of our own fall, when a leader is exposed as a hypocrite or when we see fellow Catholics drift away. We watch our children or our siblings make other choices, and it wounds us. We want to fix it.
Be firmer! Be more gentle! It’s black and white. No, it’s shades of gray. This fix-it mode is all over the place. Hans Kung wants us to downsize the papacy and call Vatican III. Other folks would prefer to high-tail it back to Vatican I.
At L.A. Congress you see it all: High Church, Low Church, Brown Church, Old Church, Young Church. And the crazies outside with their anti-Catholic picket signs tell us we are all going to hell anyway.
Sometimes at L.A. Congress I just sit outside the convention center and watch the people. They come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and it is just amazing what a big and wonderful Church it is. We may be broken, but we are quite a whole as well: People of God. Mystical Body of Christ. Vine and Branches. It seems a miracle we all worship together. And yet we do.
At dinner that night with my family, I had that same feeling. Yes, I wanted to fix every hurt and every need, but that’s just ego talking. I’m not God, after all. I’m just a brother enjoying his big, rambunctious real-life family, wishing the night would never end.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.