It’s been a day (actually few days) when I’ve been reminded that the church (any church including this one) isn’t perfect – and neither are the church’s pastors, staff or members.
In those moments I’m reminded of words written by John Calvin (I don’t think I’ve every posted anything about Calvin even though he did turn 500 this year):
Since all men are somewhat beclouded with ignorance, either we must leave no church remaining, or we must condone delusion in those matters which can go unknown without harm to the sum of religion and without loss of salvation…
The church is holy, then, in the sense that it is daily advancing and is not yet perfect: it makes progress from day to day but has not yet reached it’s goal of holiness…
…neither the vices of the few nor the vices of the many in any way prevent us from professing our faith there in ceremonies ordained by God. For a godly conscience is not wounded by the unworthiness of another, whether pastor or layman; nor are the sacraments less pure and salutary for a holy and upright man because they are handled by unclean persons.
John Calvin, The Holy Catholic Church, IV.i.12, 17, 19
Perhaps Thomas Merton had similar thoughts on his mind when he wrote some of my favorite words for those of us called to ministry:
…the sacrifice that is demanded of adult Christian men and women: the realistic acceptance of imperfection and of deficiency in themselves, in others, and in their most cherished institutions.
They must face the truth of these imperfections, in order to see that the Church does not merely exist to do everything for them, to create a haven of peace and security for them, to sanctify them passively. On the contrary, it is now time for them to give to their community from their own heart’s blood and to participate actively and generously in all its struggles. It is time to sacrifice themselves for others who may no longer seem to be very worthy…
It takes great heroism to devote one’s life to others in a situation which is frustrating and unsatisfactory, and in which one’s sacrifice may even be, in large measure, wasted. But here above all, faith in God is necessary. He sees our sacrifice, and he will make it fruitful, even though in our own eyes there is nothing apparent but futility and frustration. When we accept this grace, our eyes are opened to see the real, unsuspected good in others, and to be truly grateful for our Christian vocation.
Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness