Oh, Lord, Come by Here!: Letting Our Longings Out

No matter how you spin it, the papal interview published last Thursday has prompted some remarkable soul-searching. When that seed fell on the good ground here in the Patheos Catholic neighborhood and environs, it was as though the spring rains had come to California’s high desert. Something impossibly beautiful is blooming in the way that Catholics of all ages and conditions and walks of life and places on the gameboard are wrangling personally with what they hear in Pope Francis’s words.

The Anchoress Elizabeth Scalia called it a bloodletting, the way folks are exposing their questions, their soft spots, their confusion, their betrayal, their hope in very public ways. I think it’s more like a longing-letting. The most professional of the professional Catholics (and I mean that phrase as a compliment to those who struggle every day to be thoughtful Catholic witnesses in front of God and everybody) are made amateurs—lovers, fumbling beginners, the very opposite of cynics—by what they are hearing, even if what they are hearing strikes them as false or dangerous. It’s like we have grown so used to being parched, by whatever parches us as Catholics, that we had forgotten what water can do: not only moisten our lips but grant us the gift of tears, not only splash us awake but sweep us away. The dam broke last week, and our longings have nowhere to go but out.

Everybody’s longings are tuned to a different note, triggered by a different harmonic. For Mary De Turris Poust, in a series of posts that turned the faucets on full force for many, the breaking point was the great and painful gap between what our Eucharistic community is called to be and how the vast majority of us (yes, truth) experience it.

One of the reasons I cried while reading Pope Francis’ stunning and inspiring interview with America magazine last week was because I have been starving for what he’s calling the Church to be. I have been desperate for a shepherd, for someone who wants to meet me in my darkness and walk with me spiritually, for someone who gets up there and tries to meet people where they are – in the real world, struggling with real problems, in a way that actually has some meaning in their lives. That maybe the music lifts us up instead of leaving us shaking our heads. That something, anything, give off even the whiff of meaningful spirituality. Read more.

Mary is no parish-come-lately complainer. As she responded here and here and here, she has put in her time. She knows something of what the problems are. And she’s brave enough to stand up and say what so many only think: “I’m mad as hell, and I can’t take it anymore.” That’s longing, not negativity.

Patheosi colleagues, including Elizabeth Duffy and Max Lindenman, found their own longings rising to the top in responding with eloquence and candor to Mary. And Joseph Susanka came in today with a personal reflection that’s a lovely lesson in tending the seed planted right in our own backyards.

Others of my neighbors let the implications of Pope Francis’s message, as they hear it, take them to “the deep and dazzling darkness” that Henry Vaughan found in God, the same darkness that came over Abraham as he enacted the Covenant, the darkness that came over the earth at the ninth hour on Calvary, the darkness that Pope Francis himself experienced as he accepted the vote of his brothers. It is a place of both terror and hope, and going there takes the willingness and courage of a longing that cannot be denied.

Dr Gregory Popcak looked fearlessly at how radical mercy might change his mission of reconciling broken families and broken minds. He finds himself the elder brother in the parable of the father prodigious in mercy:

Here, in Francis, my Papa was running out into the street to meet my brothers and sisters who were lost but now found.   He was killing the fatted calf and putting the finest robes on them.  He was giving them his ring.   And here I was, stuck doing the same damn thing I’ve always been doing and getting even less thanks for it.   People who left the Church, who hated the Church (and yes, hated and sometimes abused me for loving it), who wouldn’t give the Church a second glance were suddenly realizing that God loved them, that the Church welcomed them, and all I could do was feel bitter about it.  Because it was a fricking inconvenience to me.   I didn’t feel bitter because I don’t love them.   I do.  It wasn’t that I don’t want them to know how much they are loved and welcome.  I do.  But I was bitter because, to be perfectly honest, having to love them the way they are today makes my life harder than I would like it to be.   It isn’t enough for me to  just make statements and then sit in my rightness and be right.   All of a sudden, I have to really listen, to deal with the mess of their lives and put up with–no, actually respect– their “who do you think YOU are?” attitudes.    Yes, I loved them,  truly, but not enough.  Pope Francis was showing me that for all my brave words and self-congratulatory thoughts about my commitment to love my neighbor, I loved my comfort zone a little more than I loved my brother and sister who were coming home after a long time of suffering and loneliness.

And I felt ashamed.  Read more.

Elizabeth Scalia, in her column at First Things, dared to ask a question about the limits of longing, the wideness of the merciful triage center to which Francis compares the Church. And Calah Alexander asks the same sort of courageous questions about the culture wars—courageous because they will inevitably be answered with venom, or, worse still, shushed as impolitic or unorthodox.

I think it’s destructive to think and act in terms of “fighting a battle.” To be sure, there is a vast battle raging…but we’re not fighting people, we’re fighting evil, demons, Satan, and the forces of darkness. There are people everywhere who are suppressed or oppressed or held in thrall by the darkness, and making sure they know how dark the darkness is won’t help them. What will help them is bringing the light. Heal the wounds, the pope said. Heal the wounds.

There are wounds everywhere, on both sides of this issue. Both sides have been vicious. Despite endless cries for tolerance, we live in a profoundly caustic and unloving culture, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the culture wars. But if we persist in the mentality that we’re fighting a war against other people, we’ve already lost. Read more.

In her post, Calah compares all of us to the woman at the well. JUST GIVE US THAT WATER BEFORE WE DIE OF LONGING.

There is equal love and longing in the posts of my neighbors who have real trouble with the papal interview—not what was said, so much as how it was said, in language that could (and did) confuse, in tones that could sound snarky to those who see this papacy as a betrayal of tradition. Fr Dwight Longenecker addresses that first concern very well in a number of posts, especially this one (which also channels that pesky elder brother):

The fact of the matter is, a risk is required in redemption. The rules and dogmas must be upheld, but they must also be broken. But they must be broken from the inside out. In other words, the rules and dogmas must be lived out in a dynamic way that reveals their limitations not because they’re wrong, but because they are not big enough. This is what Jesus said when he told his disciples they must be “more righteous” than the rule abiding Pharisees. We need the rules and the dogma, but we also need the pastoral approach. The two balance each other. The rules guide the pastoral approach. They provide the map for the journey.

OK. Put it another way: the rules and the dogma are the trellis. The pastoral love for the flock is the vine. A trellis is strict structure. It is dead wood constructed for a purpose. The vine is a fruitful, life giving organism, but without the trellis the vine just grows along the ground never giving fruit and being little more than a weed. With the trellis (and with the pruning of discipline) the vine grows up to the sun and bears a rich harvest. Of course the trellis is necessary, and we need vintners who spend their time building and maintaining the trellis. But we also need the “workers in the vineyard” who focus on the crop and on the vine because at the end of the day the purpose of the whole enterprise is the harvesting of grapes and the production of good red wine.

The risk of the pastoral approach is that it will be misunderstood. People will  think we are saying, “Neither to I condemn you” and forgetting to say “go and sin no more”. People will assume we are condoning sin. Sinners will think we are condoning sin. This is the risk, but it is a risk worth taking because Jesus himself took that risk. We must pursue the pastoral approach with great compassion and vigor while never forgetting the rules and regulations which guide our work. Read more.

See? Longing. We’re awash with it, taken unaware. From inside or out, from the elder brother’s bedroom or the pigsty far, far away, we long for a Church that embodies God, who is love, who is mercy, who is home. And he longs for us.

As for me, my longings are mostly “too deep for tears”—or blogging—on all these counts. They can be summed up, with apologies to Joseph Susanka’s musical sensibilities (of which I am in awe), and to the scorn of all those who use it as shorthand for mushy sentimentalist commie folk-Mass crap, in the words of the prayer that is Kumbaya. Pseudo-Africanized from the Gullah “Come by Heah,” the simple song expresses all our longing—like the deer that pants for the watercourse, like the dry, weary waste land, like the woman at the well, like the Father meeting his sons more than halfway:

Someone’s praying, Lord, come by here.

Someone’s crying, Lord, come by here.

Someone’s singing, Lord, come by here.

O Lord, come by here!

  • RUTH_ANN

    It seems to me that you’ve said it all—and beautifully. Thank you.

  • linda daily

    Thanks for this piece. One of the best homilies I’ve ever heard on the parable of the Good Samartian describes what happened between the Samaritian, the wounded traveler and the innkeeper as the true Church – the Body of Christ alive in us. The homilist used the image of the Samaritan’s donkey to describe the Church as institution – assisting in the act of mercy. A donkey was important and valuable, needed appropriate feeding and care, could be stubborn and slow while it bore heavy burdens. But it is never the center of the story. Unfortunately, many of us have been involved in donkey worship recently. Pope Francis is righting the ship.


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