......I have talked about how the Church itself failed me in all this. Let me confess how I failed myself.
The Amish example of forgiveness and detachment from anger recently made a powerful impression on me, because I can see so clearly how I allowed myself to become snared in it. The pursuit of justice is a wonderful and necessary thing, even a holy act. But I became so tormented over what had happened to those children at the hands of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy that I could see nothing else but pursuing justice. And my own pursuit of justice allowed me to turn wrath into an idol. I didn't know I was doing this at the time. I came to believe that if I didn't stop, or if I let up, that I would in some sense be failing the victims, that I would be helping the perpetrators get away with it. Again and again, I kept thinking What if this had happened to our family? And over time, the anger, and my inability to master it and put it in its place, corroded the bonds that linked me to Catholicism. That is something that could happen to anybody, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or what have you. Be warned.
What's more, I had become the sort of Catholic who thought preoccupying himself with Church controversies and Church politics was the same thing as preoccupying himself with Christ. Me and my friends would go on for hours and hours about what was wrong with the Church, and everything we had to say was true. But if you keep on like that, it will have its effect. One night, some Catholic friends left after a long and vivid night of conversation, and Julie and I reflected that we had all spent the entire evening talking about the Church -- but never mentioned Jesus. Julie said, "We need less Peter around here, and more Jesus." Her point was that all this talk about the institutional Church was crowding out our devotion to the spiritual realities beneath the visible structure. And she was right. But I didn't learn that until it was too late.
I can look back also and see that my own intellectual pride helped me build a weak foundation for my faith. When I converted to Catholicism in 1992 (I entered the Church formally in 1993), it was a sincere Christian conversion. But I also took on as my own all the cultural and intellectual trappings of the American Catholic right. I remember feeling so grateful for the privilege and gift of being Catholic, but there was a part of me that thought, "Yay! I'm on the A-Team now, the New York Yankees of Christianity. I'm on Father Neuhaus's team!" A short time back, an intellectual friend who is a Protestant told me that he almost became a Catholic, and would have except for the place where he was working at the time was filled with conservative intellectual Catholics who wouldn't shut up about the superiority of Catholicism. Their arrogance finally put him off the Church, and now he says he couldn't imagine converting. I swallowed hard when he told me that, because I can only imagine how I must have come off to people like him in my prideful heyday.
Without quite realizing what was happening, I became a Professional Catholic, and got so caught up in identifying with the various controversies in the American church that I began to substitute that for an authentic spirituality. This is nobody's fault but my own. Part of that involved hero-worshipping Pope John Paul II, and despite having a healthy awareness of the sins and failings of various bishops, exaggerating the virtues of bishops my side deemed "orthodox." Bernard Cardinal Law was just such a bishop. I count it as one of the most shameful acts of my life the moment when I rushed across a courtyard in Jerusalem to kneel and kiss Cardinal Law's ring. I don't count it as a sin to kiss a cardinal's ring; what was wrong was my motivation for doing so: I felt so much pride in showing myself to be an orthodox Catholic paying due homage to an orthodox archbishop in that public way.
Well, I was a fool, and I set myself up for a big fall. A few weeks back, I mentioned to Julie on the way to St. Seraphim's one morning, "I'm now part of a small church that nobody's heard of, with zero cultural influence in America, and in a tiny parish that's materially poor. I think that's just where I need to be."
See, this is why you won't see me ballyhoo my conversion to Orthodoxy as I did with my conversion to Catholicism. Partly it's because I still consider myself to be among the spiritually walking wounded. I need to build myself up in Christ, and in ordinary Christian piety. I believe that God rescued me from a pit partly of my own making by showing me Orthodoxy, and through the witness of the people of St. Seraphim's parish. I have to laugh when well-meaning people say, "Well, Rod's still looking for the perfect church, I wonder what's going to become of him when he figures out that the Orthodox Church is screwed up too." Shoot, the Orthodox Church in America is neck-deep in a financial scandal at its pinnacle! Don't they think I see that? I am perfectly aware that sexual sin and the temptation to cover it up or deny it exists in every human institution. I do not imagine that I have escaped that in Orthodoxy. I am incapable of being the kind of gung-ho Orthodox as I was a gung-ho Catholic. I've learned my lesson. What I do have in Orthodoxy, though, is a second chance to get it right. To receive the Sacraments as an aid to theosis, and to learn to love the little platoon around me, building up the community and my own family. Had I started out this way as a Catholic, maybe it wouldn't have come to this. But I did, and here I am, and God is merciful.......
I remember many discussions in Bible College about what was wrong with the church. Most of it was true. But it is a life sapping thing nonetheless. That is the problem when what you need for life also is your career and obsession. As you hack and chop at the weeds in the field you kill some of the harvest in your own soul.
It also reminds me of David Meece song To the Glory of God
Once I used to ride off to war
There was glory to win
Thought I knew what it was for
But most of the battles were mine
Now so is the pain