7LW: Messy


Behold Your Mother.

BY WAY OF disclaimer, this admission: Pope Francis has stepped out to consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and this seems to me a good thing. As the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the whole world is his See, and he can make Eucharist with all that is his – as each servant of Christ is called to do. By that confession or what follows I hope that my opinion of the sitting Patriarch of Moscow would become clear as well.

Some think that the consecration will result in some sort of “automagical” end to the war or maybe some other apocalyptic event. But I think not. This event reads as the Pope asserting pastoral authority over a people seemingly abandoned by their own Pontiff, who, by throwing himself into the vanguard of someone we think of as a political bad actor, seems to have offered not only a pinch of incense to Caesar but also turned traitor against his own brethren in the name of that same Caesar. The sitting Patriarch of Moscow deserves to be removed from office if you ask me. The Holy Father is doing what he can, short of declaring the See of Moscow to be vacant – an act which neither side of the Great Schism has ever done. If you’ve never noticed: neither Rome nor Constantinople has ever tried to elect a successor to the See of the Opposition. There’s no Catholic Ecumenical Patriarch and no Orthodox Bishop of Rome. (This tacit agreement to let each other run their own show is a huge sign of hope to me!)

Orthodox Bishops around the world have made it clear that they reject the Patriarch’s actions. But, in doing so, they reveal to the west how messy Orthodox Ecclesiology can be. Yet – the rule of glass houses applies here – what makes this action any different from how certain bishops and priests reject our Holy Father as either too liberal, too conservative, or too vague? Rejoicing because secular politics is ripping up the Church is not a good look for us. Taking sides in a dispute internal to the Orthodox Church seems tone-deaf on our part, or else imperialistic: do we want them to fall apart?

The Pope is giving Russia and Ukraine – and by proxy all of us – a call to behold your Mother. Jesus says, “Behold your mother.” Yet the Pope is also unveiling (the real meaning of apocalypse) exactly how messy the Church is. As Mary is our Mother, so also is the Church. If the Pope is calling us to see one, we must see the other as well. Spiritually the Church is a spotless bride adorned as for her wedding. But. Look. Let’s be honest: to human eyes, the Church can be more like Stella Dallas than Stella Maris.

When I left the Episcopal Church, I looked briefly at the Catholic Church but thought I saw many of the same problems I was fleeing in ECUSA: sexual issues, feminism, bad theology, wonky liturgy. The Orthodox Church seemed a safe haven. I needed to be there for 3 years or so before I saw my mistake. After 10 years there the Apocalypse had shown sexual abuse, issues around the understanding of sex and the two human genders, wonky theology and ecclesiology, and even a form of the Liturgy Wars. Hearing of the sexual antics of monastics in a monastery I had – pardon me – idolized even before I became Orthodox was the last straw in a lot of ways. As news of the sex scandal breaks (over and over, it seems) and as political infighting becomes the main soundtrack, maybe casting it all aside seems like a good idea. But that would be to betray our divinely appointed mother.

This post is not about the scandal that may thus arise any more than it’s about Putin’s ecclesial shenanigans. It’s about our mother, the Church.

And she’s a bit messy. You may even say tawdry. She’s filled up with mere human beings who are all sinners. Left to our own devices she’s bound to end up with a torn dress, with bruised muscles, with a black eye now and then.

But she’s trying very hard to get sainthood out of us anyway.

The consecration of Russia and Ukraine – and all of mankind – to the Heart of the Immaculate Virgin is a reminder that while we have a mother here on Earth we have a pure mother in Heaven as well. One who prays for us, one who sits at the side of her son offering intercession for us along with all the saints; and through her Son to the Father. The Church Militant is both an expression of her intercession as well as a foretaste of what Mary is. Only by God’s grace can we move there, only by God’s grace can she – the Church – move there. The process of ecclesial reform is first and foremost the process of making each of us holy. We cannot fix the Church – she fixes us – and when we are healed so will she be. We are the Church. Those public sins we did not commit damaged souls as surely as the private ones we did.

Behold your mother: she’s a bit of a mess but she has one thing to do. She’s going to get you holy and, by a grace-filled sort of transubstantiation, when you are holy she will be too.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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