Over the last couple of years, I’ve observed this happening. Christians who love God and the Church, but whose faith communities have scandalized them to the point of dreading worship, skipping Mass, or facing the prospect of leaving in tears. In closed groups and whispered conversations, people of faith who just can’t take it anymore.
The silence from their local churches on issues relating to gun and school violence.
The silence when white nationalists march through the streets.
The silence when immigrant children are ripped from their parents arms.
I’ve had more than one person confide in me that they did not attend church the weekend after some horrible injustice because they couldn’t bear to hear the silence of the church ignoring the cries of the poor and oppressed.
There are Christians who have forced themselves to abandon any hope of getting moral leadership from their local church on any social issue of the day (other than abortion), and instead have placed their energies and hopes in other denominations or secular groups who are speaking out on these issues.
Many keep their heads down and mouths closed, receive the sacraments, and leave, unable to bear the thought of what their fellow church members might say over donuts after church. Perhaps, some might say, that shouldn’t matter. Maybe not, but it does. Christianity isn’t a social club, but it is a family, and its suffering the same fracturing that many of our families are suffering right now.
Some, unable to carry the tension, and living in rural areas where there are limited or no choices of where to attend Mass, simply stop showing up. Heaped upon them in addition to the isolation of feeling that no one around them is interested in living the Gospel, they experience the guilt of having missed church and an opportunity for oneness with their Creator.
Maybe you don’t believe me – but I have personally witnessed these conversations, received messages from Catholics who love their faith but are deeply alienated, and can attest that this is real and is a real source of pain.
For me, what has helped in times of being tempted to throw up my hands in disgust and walk away, is to take a long view and remember that Christianity is so much bigger and more important than American Catholicism. This moment we are living in right now is a blip on the radar screen of the church.
Traveling to New Mexico recently helped me to remember this. There isn’t one way to be a Christian, even if it can oppressively feel that way at times. To be brought out of the American Catholic experience at this time, and to re-encounter the Christian faith of the Pueblo native Americans, and the people of New Mexico’s history, the humble expression of faith in the midst of poverty, reminds us of what God is about. Lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, striking down the powerful.
Our God is so much bigger than all this noise, and all this silence. Those silent in the face of injustice will one day have to speak, of that be assured. Let us keep talking, and our voices will light the way. It is their job to keep up.
So I brought my idea to the people of Facebook – where else – and asked them who they read when they feel like quitting. What words draw them back in when they have one foot out the door. And the following six authors were among both my favorites and the most popular responses. I hope you enjoy them and that they give you as much peace as I have found within their words. Perhaps you have noticed that there are only men on this list. Fear not, friends! There are so many women whose work could be included here that I’ve decided to give them their own post next week. Stay tuned.
1. Fr. Gregory Boyle
Gregory Boyle, winner of the prestigious Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, is a Jesuit priest and director of Homeboy Ministries, which helps former gang members in Los Angeles learn the skills of baking and running a business, but most importantly, of healing from a life of violence.
His book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion is a beautifully written and powerful message of Gospel hope.
2. Black Elk
Nicholas Black Elk was a holy man of the Olgala Sioux. He was a mystic and incredibly influential spiritual leader among Native Americans and Catholics of the twentieth century. His vision of Creation as an interconnected and conjoined expanse under the guidance of God (a single Great Spirit as he wrote), is a wonderful point of convergence for Christians wanting to explore the connections between Creation and faith.
Black Elk Speaks is his most well-known work.
3. Brian Doyle
What can I say about Brian Doyle’s work? It’s funny, profound, evocative, and deeply religious without being cloyingly pious. It’s a real tragedy that Brian Doyle passed away just a couple of years ago, leaving so many stories untold. He was a prolific writer, but two of his most highly recommended books are
Start reading Brian Doyle and you will not be sorry.
4. Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez
You may be familiar with Gustavo Gutierrez . Gutierrez is considered by many, along with Paolo Freire to be the father of liberation theology. On the Side of the Poor is a life changing book, bringing liberation theology into the twenty-first century.
5. Fr. Bryan Massingale
Bryan Massingale is a Jesuit priest and professor of theology at Fordham University. A person of color, his work exploring racial justice and the legacy of racism in communities of faith is really needed in the Church in America, and everywhere. I highly recommend Racial Justice and the Catholic Church for anyone who wants to unpack the legacy of racism and how it has impacted church.
6. Bl. Oscar Romero
Archbishop Romero will be canonized this fall by Pope Francis for his steadfast faith and martyrdom. Romero spoke out against the powerful leaders of El Salvador, who were oppressing the poor people. Because of the stand he took for his people and against the powerful, he was murdered while saying Mass. His books The Violence of Love and The Scandal of Redemption are beautiful and challenging in the best ways.
The most important thing to know, beloved, is this: You belong. As a member of Christ’s body, Christ’s family, the church — you belong and you are not alone.