There is a structure to Catholicism, a hierarchy of swirling intrigue that has spilled scandals through centuries. And there, far beneath the debates about theology and policy, about finances and philosophy, lies the foundation of the church: very ordinary people living the fullness of each day fully embedded in diverse cultures all over the world. The power of the magisterium is far from unbridled in that world; instead, there is a realistic acknowledgement of the divide that separates the ordained and the lay Catholic.
The life of the church rests not in the pageantry of cardinals or the rhetoric of Rome. That life surges through the families that kneel in pews, the children that whisper their prayers before bed, the couples that pray grace before meals. For those persons, who trust there is a God, who find themselves conscious of being part of something greater than self, who discover a sense of awe in silence and know the power of others’ stories, for those persons, there is a life of faith.
That life is reflected in choices, in behaviors and attitudes. They are adults who hold their babies over the baptismal font with the keen awareness that faith is a family proposition, and it is their privilege and responsibility to pass on the faith they practice. They are the elderly who receive a young priest’s homily about his own alcoholism with an understanding born of experience and an affirming round of applause. They are the young couples who want to begin their lives together in a sacred space and place. They are the ones who spend time in soup kitchens, in religious ed, in fingering the Rosary and in long conversations about how to become better people.
They live the frailty and the strength that are part of every human being, and they trust that no one among us is perfect. They are maintenance people, doctors and teachers, clerks and cashiers, firefighters and policemen, nurses and EMT’s, chefs and limo drivers. They are well-educated and not educated, and they sit side by side. They know the history of the institutional church, and they know the gift of personal faith. In the midst of scandal, they keep trying to become better people. Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, realizing the very smallness of every human being in the vast display of the created world, they pursue a life of faith. For them, it is not about the magisterium, the bishops or the workings of a diocese. It is about finding the presence of God in the whisper of dawn each morning. It is knowing that God walks with us through the mysteries of life, weeps with us in suffering and empowers us to goodness.
There is a certain miracle to the awareness that the ordained are mediators of practice, but not necessarily agents of faith. That extraordinary privilege belongs to the most ordinary of persons.