The Church is a Prayer

The following text is taken from hitherto unpublished reflections of Catherine on the Church from her talks to the Madonna House community. (Published in Catherine #5, Summer 2003)


The Church is a prayer; the Church is a song; the Church is the tears of all mankind; the Church is the smile of a child; the Church picks up the last look of the dying man or woman. All these things are in the bosom of the Church, because all these things are in God, and God brought forth the Church. To leave the Church is to become lonely, so lonely.

Now, we who speak of prayer, of love, of many things that console others, we should really become a prayer for those who leave the Church. Not because they’re doing anything heretical. At the present moment people don’t even know how to spell “heretical” let alone understand it! It’s not that. It’s the tragic situation of a woman or man opening a door, closing it, going down a few steps, and entering into a loneliness for which there aren’t any words. For man without God is the loneliest person in the world.

— October 1, 1976

The Church! The people of God! What strange words: people of God! Do we really believe that we are the people of God? Do we? As such we have failed, almost totally, but not quite, to do what God has asked the Church to do. We have failed to love one another! And because of that, the name of Jesus Christ has not been heard the way it ought to be. And when it has been heard, it has not been heard within the context of a family, a community of love, and so it is rejected. The only way we can bring the essence of the Church to our brothers and sisters is on the platter of our hearts. We have to take our hearts and lay them on a platter, and give it to others.

When we talk of communities, let us examine our consciences. Let us cease this useless pilgrimage from one community to another. There is no harm in looking communities over. But don’t let us fool ourselves, that if I join community X or community Z, or if I start a community, that community will be my direct way to God. O no! It is always through the Church! It’s the Church that gives the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the Church that gives us joy, the consolation, the hope of the sacraments.

We in Madonna House are so lucky. I don’t know if you have stopped to think about it. In our midst we have a bishop, priests, consecrated people who give their lives to Christ; and we have people coming, seeking the answers to life. We are a Church. I mean the mystery of Christ’s Church.

St. Francis was sleeping somewhere in Italy, and suddenly he heard a voice: “Get up and restore my Church.” And he thought that he was called to restore the little church of San Damiano that was kind of falling down. So he labored mightily in carrying stones, and really restored that little church.

But what God meant was for Francis to go and restore his Church, the Holy Roman Catholic Church, which was going to pieces too, or seemingly so. And the strange thing was that God had selected the son of a merchant whose head was filled with ideas of horses, clothes, and war; wine, women and song.

When we look at ourselves, we see that we are not interested in wine, women and song, but we certainly are no mighty Magoos either! We are ordinary laity, very ordinary, and the restoration of the Church begins within the heart of each one of us. It is not by carrying wood and stone that we will restore the Church. It is by restoring the community Christ came on earth to create, so that men should see his icon in us through the love we have for one another.

I think it is time for each of us to kneel down in the privacy of our own heart, and ask God to show us a little of the mystery of what the Church is, in the reality of our daily living, and what our role is in the restoration of the Church.

— December 24, 1975

One of the things I noticed going on today is a constant discussion of the fact that the Church is too structured, too this, too that, and that we have to start a movement of liberation from the structures. I prayed about this and it came to me that the simplest answer to ‘structure’ is holiness. People are over-structured when they are not holy. Holiness is total security, because holiness is total surrender. Holiness is a total commitment for others. Now when you have that kind of attitude, there is no problem of structure.

Can you imagine St. Francis worrying about structures? If they came his way, he accepted them. If they did not come his way, he couldn’t care less about them. They didn’t bother him very much. What he cared about was our love for God and man.

If we want to unstructure a structure that is no good, the simplest way is to become holy. Those wonderful people called saints unstructured things by their holiness.

— October 22, 1975


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