Scandals weaken the connection and the confidence Catholics have in the Church. I know; I worked for a parish in Boston in 2002 when the news exploded revealing grievous scandals. Years later I wrote All In: Why Belonging to the Church Matters in part to respond to the questions people would ask, such as “Why stay? How can you have confidence in the Church, given who and what defames and discredits it?”
As waves of scandal continue, the anchor I cling to, both then and now, is that the Church is the Bride of Christ, and Jesus is the Bridegroom, and there will never be a divorce.
Recall what Jesus taught about the bride and bridegroom in marriage: “The two shall become one . . . they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10: 8–9).
“What God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Think about those words. They apply to our relationship with Christ. What God has joined together—our lives in Christ through Baptism—we must not separate. Indeed, God loved us first: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. . . .We love, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:7, 19).”
Christ loves his Bride continually. He has no intention of ever being severed from it—even in the worst of times. He died to save us from the worst. He has joined himself to us in his very flesh. We experience this most profoundly in the Eucharist.
Viewed only by all her sinners and hypocrites, the Church is easily written off. Her depraved members weaken her. I get that. Many people may wince thinking that if this Church is the Bride of Christ, she needs one heckuva of a makeover! Many see the Church as a mud-splashed bride, her radiance obscured because the soil of hard times has taken its toll.
But there’s a flip side, a divine side that we often fail to see.
The Incarnation of Christ changes everything for the Bride. Just as Jesus is human and divine, so is the Church. As the Church is wedded to Jesus, we can also say that the Church is both human and divine. It is both—just as Jesus is both.
The unity of Jesus and the Church is a merciful truth that far outweighs the sins of the Bride who is forgiven when she repents. (That’s not to say the members of churches are not liable for crimes and misdemeanors within a civil system, or canon law; her guilty members most certainly are liable.)
But in Christ there is always the hope of glory for the Bride. Hers is an ever-present forgiveness and mercy both to dispense and to receive. The Second Vatican Council described this as the Church being both “holy and always in need of being purified, always follow[ing] the way of penance and renewal” (Lumen Gentium, 8)
Until we get to the bliss of heaven, much of what we experience in the Church may look a lot like the ups-and-downs, the back-and-forth seasons of marriage: “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, in good times and in bad . . .”
This much is certain: Our hope is always in Jesus, the founder, the keeper, and the bridegroom of the Church.
Pat Gohn is the author of All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters.