Imagine for a moment the old widow rocking on the front porch. Her lined face is bent down, genuflecting to her needlepoint, the isolating habit that calms her. Her fiddling fingers allow her to slide easily into the cocoon that has become her world. Though time hangs heavy on her hands, she is content. Old-timey music plays in the parlor on the other side of the screened window.
Every now and then, as these things happen, she hears the voice of a child calling out to her from out on the lawn. She takes her eyes off of her work and looks about. She slowly eases her frail body off her rocking chair, gently places down her needlepoint, and calls out with all that her tired voice allows:
“Get off my lawn. This is my property. I’ll call the police!”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Is this the image of today’s Church?
Has the Bride of Christ become like the old widow, who, caught within her inertness and fixed habits, periodically looks out into the flock—and rails against it? The once-resplendent and vibrant Bride sees the wandering child, the unformed, the lost soul, the broken marriage, the depressed teenager, the lonely cancer patient who will die unanointed and without absolution—and says: Scat! You get away from me.
Out on the front lawn of the world, the starving children of God—who look past her wrinkled veil and see the radiance and dynamism of the widow’s former self—call out to the Bride. But the widow, focused only on her sheltered customs, has closed in on herself, so her ears are bad now, and what’s left is filled with old-timey music. The focus now is on trespassing, broken masking codes, and fiddling her knitting fingers when orthodoxy, grave sin, daily Rosaries and the like are brought to her attention. The old Bride can no longer hear. Her eyes barely see.
But in truth, it is her mind and memory that’s the issue. The widow (shh—don’t startle her) isn’t actually a widow. It’s just that she can no longer recognize the Bridegroom—for he is but a shadow of his former self. He has become a ghost.
With numberless bored youth and young adults leaving the Church—and few coming in—have we entered the final stage of what is becoming a ghost-Church? What will our Church in twenty years resemble?
Was it the Bride (the Church) who abandoned the Groom (Christ in her priest)—or vice-versa? Has the Bridegroom pulled away from the Bride of Christ?
As a lay member introducing the question to laity, have you considered that it is the Groom who has pulled away? The poor old widow is, perhaps, not primarily to blame for her amnesia and crankiness.
Once, the Bride didn’t appear so old. She was mobile, active, and free. She was like Mary traveling by foot over the hillsides. At every roadside inn and hearth-warmed home, she carried in her travels a glow that sacramentalized every soul she encountered. So strong and pulsating was her light that you can imagine Elizabeth being pulled to the ground by its weight, a centrifugal force that propelled her to adore the impending marriage of the Bride and Groom.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).
We often forget that Mary’s trip to the countryside was a sacrifice. Due to her advanced age, Elizabeth hid away in her home, inhibited and, perhaps, a touch shamed by her pregnancy. Mary, regaled in benevolence and triumphal joy, traveled many miles up and down hillsides to bring her aged cousin comfort, aid, and warm Light. Perhaps it is only in our mind’s eye that we can truly treasure the magnitude of mobility and endurance of young Mary as she held God within her womb during that journey.
Mary was mobile; she moved outward. This was the image of the old widow, the image of the Church, in bygone days.
Unless the Groom in persona Christi is equally as active as Mary, as evidenced throughout the events of the Visitation, the orphaned children of God out on the front lawn will be screamed at, dismissed, and left to wander. God cannot work in hardened hearts and within sedentary minds; The Bride cannot bear fruit when the Groom has abandoned her.
If clergy fails to climb Golgotha as Christ the Bridegroom to become the slaughtered lamb, the Bride will stay closed up. Her ears will not hear; her eyes will remain sealed. She will not know she is still married. And souls will go to Hell. The children, who see no true vibrancy in the Groom—and accordingly, encounter the unfeeling and static Bride—will scatter among today’s numberless wolves, who will slaughter them.
The pope, the bishop, and the priest must look up. He must absorb the whipped and suffocating body. It will be then and there, in the shadow of the brutality and sacrifice, that he will remember the burden of his priestly identity. I am to die like Him. The icon every faithful priest would want tethered to his heart, I would imagine, is the skull—the reminder of his death and of the daily deaths he, as the suffering servant, must oblige each day.
It is only through the Groom’s visceral instinct to offer sacrifice for his flock and the Church that it can again begin to bear fruit. Until then, there can be no life or joy found when the Groom is pulled away and content within himself and his comfortable habits. The Bride will forever remain a spinster.
Thankfully, the widow can remember again. She can become like that character in the Brad Pitt movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and begin to age in reverse. The widow wants to call the children up to her porch and listen to their cries as they rest their heads in her lap. But for this to unfold in the manner Christ intended when He built His Church, the Bride needs the Groom to come back.
How does he come back? Again, the Groom must return to Golgotha, where the marriage was consummated, where Mary became the Mother of the Church.
When the Groom comes home to live on Calvary, it will become a natural habitat. For the priest who lives there, this is his parish:
There is daily confession.
There are many hours of Adoration each day.
The Groom’s voice is prophetic, unswerving, and true—parishioners see great magnanimity in him.
The rectory is open at 7 a.m.; it closes well past dark.
The church is always unlocked.
His parish spills over with true Catholic missionaries.
The Groom is often witnessed walking church grounds praying the Rosary, where he offers the petitions of his parishioners to Mary.
Of course, the Bride and the Groom will see things differently; this is the way of husband and wife and the sacred union of holy matrimony. But when the Bride looks to the Groom and sees a priest with an indomitable will to serve Christ and his people, she will, alas, step away from the porch and begin to travel the hillsides again—with God in her womb—where she will seek out lost souls, where she will stoop down and reach for the orphan with tears in her eyes, the same orphan she once met with scorn.
It is when the Bride calls out to the Groom in loving surrender, begging to be led, that the marriage will bear its intended fruit. The call is received and responded to in this fashion:
Hark! my lover—here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Here he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices. My lover speaks; he says to me, “Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come.” (Song of Songs 2:8-10)
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