I am a long-time fan of the music and poetry of the late Leonard Cohen. Even while his musings often left me mystified and confused, he helped me to a deeper understanding of the pilgrim state humanity finds itself in -- a state which I believe also characterises our CSS Agency and the Church within which it dwells.
In his 1993 song “Anthem” Cohen ruminates about the crack in everything, proposing that the perfect offering will perhaps always be evasive to us. He summons us beyond the disenchantments that so often surface in our human existence. These are disillusionments I believe the Church was tasked to appease.
We seek perfection, congruence, peace, stability, and wellness in life (the wholeness of the perfect, flawless vessel). Even as we might attain these characteristics for brief moments, they seem to quickly escape our grasp. Still, as we try to understand the meaning and implications of events, relationships, and experiences which throw us off balance, a glimmer of hope often is restored and a sense of wholeness rekindled. If we allow that wholeness to penetrate, some light can pierce through, revealing new perspectives and new meaning.
“Every heart to love will come, but like a refugee” Cohen sings in “Anthem.”
Indeed, like a refugee.
We need to let go of much, turning down the volume on those seductive voices that draw us into our individualism. We need to tune in to the more subtle vocals that entice us into a kind of relationship to life -- another kind of love -- that might quell these repeated disenchantments.
Today, this Spirit-inspired surrender to God’s love and mercy is what the Church invites us to embrace as we carry out our mission at CSS.
“You are Peter” (the rock), Christ said to the first Bishop of Rome, “and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).
Through the centuries, the Church instituted by Christ has not been completely overpowered, but it has certainly shown its share of fractures and cracks as her true purpose seemingly retreats into the shadows. As we move through this year of 2017, which marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, our splintering continues. The integrity of the vessel seems in jeopardy, the unity elusive, the perfect offering -- the flawless harmony -- out of grasp.
Like the Church, CSS is a Pilgrim organisation. Originally set on a well-charted course, the Church’s route has been obstacle-laden. And as an agency of the Church, Catholic Social Services has continued to experience similar meanderings when elements of a similar blurring of perspective (those retreats into the shadows) have surfaced over time. It was in that context that our leadership chose to re-examine its mission and purpose over the past four years. The intent was to return us to our original values and our true identity, allowing the light of truth to shine a little more intensely through the cracks.
I have some sympathy towards some of my colleagues and acquaintances, as well as several friends and members of my own extended family, who have drifted away from their early religious affiliations, seemingly because of the cracks they detected in the Church during their formative years. They did not feel invited into a joyful, inclusive, forgiving, patient, and loving relationship with the Creator and all of creation.
A little too focused on dogma, rituals, prohibitions, and control, this rudimentary religion at times presented the world as a dangerous, debauched place, afflicting many with a sense of guilt and a gnawing fear of God’s Judgement. This alienation was greatly exacerbated by the scandals that plague this “Holy but certainly-very-human” institution, all of which have caused the alienation of many in our society.
The Church was meant to serve as a vehicle for God’s grace and love, but she came to be perceived by many as too harsh in her demands, and sometimes dishonest in the face of social expectations. Many have sought to lighten the load, to dial down and rationalize the morals in an effort to individualize faith, and downplay our distinctive identity, or to dismiss religion altogether. This phenomenon has been played out within CSS as well.
It is true that the moral teachings of Christ’s Church are difficult, and yet to dial down her moral ideals would mean compromising the Church’s whole purpose.
Jesus didn’t try to lessen the disagreeable-yet-liberating implications and demands of His Mission, and neither should his Church. The Church’s challenge is to help us understand that in our suffering and bruised community we will discover the true face of Christ.
In her present-day expressions, the Church strives to be a more welcoming sign of Christ’s grace and presence among us, drawing us beyond ourselves into a higher, unifying repository of goodness, mercy, justice, peace, and love. She helps dispel our illusions, gradually dissolving the flaws, cuts, and wounds.
And she calls us at Catholic Social Services to a mature faith that will allow the light of truth to penetrate through these cracks.
I pray that we continue on this path of regeneration lit by a more tender Church (under Pope Francis) and a more distinctively faithful Agency under our Archbishop and our leadership.
Collectively, we must be a glimmer of light in an imperfect offering.