The Catholic Church in the United States is at an inflection point. Political factions within the church argue about abortion, Eucharistic access, married priests, female ordination, and LGBTQ+ issues. Secular individuals, those who’ve left the church, and the spiritual but not religious argue that the Catholic Church is corrupt, out of touch, unable to respond to the signs of the times, focused on the wrong issues, and failing to do any good.
As a layperson who has spent his entire life working for and being educated by the Church, I can assure you that all of the arguments above hold truth and merit.
However, the United States Catholic Church is not the church. The Catholic Church, outside the republic’s gilded walls, has entirely different concerns.
Outside of America, the Catholic Church is faithfully responding to the needs of the world. In just one day, a tiny group of three Xaverian Brother postulants spent the afternoon in the streets feeding over 100 homeless people. Their work cost them roughly 45 cents, and it connected them with orphans who were abandoned by their parents, children who ran away from violence and unrest in neighboring countries, preteens who are looking for work to support their families, and teens who felt hopeless and have fallen into drug addiction to escape the state of the world.
This doesn’t include the work of the dozen or so other Catholic religious groups in this small city or the hundreds of thousands more worldwide. Not to mention the incredible work that Catholic organizations lead in the United States, serving and educating the poor and marginalized.
Outside America, Catholic priests and Religious sisters are educating the poor, providing food and clothing to families, operating addiction rehabilitation clinics, creating small communities where people can work and sustain a living, and working to overturn social injustices. Their actions result in their frequent murders and kidnappings by corrupt politicians, drug lords, and greedy business leaders.
In recent days, the Pope announced new Cardinals, and Catholic Twitter was a buzz about the decisions. Here in Bungoma, the world kept spinning, and children arrived at our door in need of a meal.
I will admit I was, and am, tired and weary of the Church. I regularly question abandoning the faith. I often, jokingly and seriously, say, “I hate the Church.” I find myself frustrated by the same problems. I’ve been known to cry when I think of the failures of the Church. I frequently through up my hands and think, “I’m done with this!”
Nonetheless, I remain.
The Catholic Church certainly needs work. Progress on countless fronts needs to be made. However, the Catholic Church is not the institutional body held in Rome, the USCCB, or even the local diocese. The Church is the Body of Christ, the countless and nameless men and women who, through their daily actions, embody the Gospel witness of Christ.
Visiting Bungoma and witnessing the work of the Xaverian Brothers is a reminder that the vast majority of the Church pays little mind to conciliar decrees, synods, or Vatican appointments. The majority of the Church is on the streets, in the hospitals, building schools, and serving the poor, broken, and marginalized of the world. In the words of Pope Francis, the majority of the Church “smells like sheep.”