There she is: 18 months old and tottering into a locker room independently, announcing she is about to swim. There they are: the grandma wrapped in a down coat, tiny and dark, with the grandson close to her height grandly pointing out the sights along the road. There is the couple shuffling down the main aisle, hands held on the walker’s frame. There is the door held open: a teenager waits with as a young mom escorts twins across the threshold. Goodness surrounds us. A moment’s glance tells you the world is changing, but goodness and kindness still provide the tempo of being.
Celebrating those moments, even recognizing them, are antidotes to the polarization and stereotyping that has captured the national consciousness. Beneath the differences, the fears and anxieties, the resentment and blame-placing, there are undeniable similarities among us. To see one another with the awareness that each carries a story, lives a depth of memory and experience, is to appreciate the essential fact of humanity: existence is complicated for everyone.
To be Catholic is to trust that humanity is so complicated that there will be moments where understanding self, never mind others, will be virtually impossible. There will be times when life seems completely unfair, unjust, untenable; to be a Catholic is to know that life is not fair. But that does not preclude living and loving and enjoying. To be a Catholic is to believe that on the very complicated journey, there is a very patient and gentle God who companions, encourages, supports and at times guides.
That understanding is captured in the reading from the Book of Wisdom, and reiterated in the story of Zaccheus. Both Wis 11:22-12:2 and Luke 19:1-10 carry a message deeper than the words themselves. In both, the essence is about God’s love and care for all creation, the gentle forgiveness for those so loved, and the view that imperfection, fault and flaw, are simply part of what it means to be human. More importantly, God is with us for the long haul. Consciousness of the divine in the midst of the human pre-dates Catholicism and the Church. While new scientific research provides plausible explanations for what was once considered “acts of God”, there is still the human urge to seek and be touched by that divine spark. Scripture confides the possibility, and human behavior and interaction provide the examples of that.
The Church, vilified as it is today, is actually intent on representing, sharing and providing some of that support. That is what the sacraments are about; earlier generations saw those sacraments as the escorts through the complications of life, the tangle of choices and decisions. At every stage of life, the sacraments intimate the idea that as human beings, we need the support of a community with shared values and vision. It is never simply about one alone. It is always about all of the imperfect gathered together, offering what we can to each other in that moment, confident in one another’s support even as limited and imperfect as it is.
To belong means to make the decision to accept the flaws, to trust that change is part of the path and that strength lies in the relationship with God rather than in the exercise of power over one another. It means believing that the Church itself is an imperfect human mechanism, striving as to become better just as we all do.