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  • Paul Cumbo

Faith, Hope, and Love When Things Are Broken

This essay was originally published a in the Buffalo News on September 15, 2019 with the title "Joy Rekindles Faith at Family Wedding."

My brother got married last weekend. As he and his wife professed their vows, I felt genuine joy and a sense that things were as they ought to be. Our family is Catholic, so this joy emerged despite troubled times. In fact, just hours after the wedding, an interview aired in which our pastor called publicly for the bishop’s resignation.

My four brothers and I attended the same Catholic elementary school and Jesuit high school. We were all altar servers. We are all married in the church. To my knowledge, across a more than a cumulative half-century of Catholic education, none of us was abused. Church was not always where we wanted to be on Sunday morning, but it mattered. Catholicism shaped our moral development, setting clear rules and offering redemption when we messed up. It was a backdrop for childhood. Christmas. Easter. Weddings. Funerals. Brunch at Grandma’s.

The crisis hits close to home, then – not explicitly for us, but existentially.

My brothers – all local – work in medicine, information technology, media production and digital animation. For 22 years, I’ve either coached or taught at Jesuit high schools, working alongside many good Jesuit priests and brothers – virtuous men and servant-leaders. The spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, invites us to deeper relationships with ourselves, others and God through honest discernment of our most authentic desires. That has helped me to look deeper, beyond the occasional impulse to cut, run and slam the door on the whole institution.

But I haven’t been going to church much. Is that a failure? A response? A nonresponse? I don’t know. Maybe all of the above. Mass was always a “joyful burden,” but Sundays now come with a dose of resentment for having committed to an institution that has been negligently and even criminally mismanaged at some levels. To be honest, a morning of blueberry pancakes and cartoons with my wife and kids has, lately, felt more sacramental.

So, a lot churned through my mind and heart at the wedding. But somewhere in there, through what I think is called grace, our broken church embraced me again. Because of family. Our family’s strength – suddenly compounded by marriage – was tangible. Our little kids and their great grandparents were bound together in kairos, which is Greek for “an opportune time.” C.S. Lewis called kairos a “brief, momentary glimpse of the eternal.”

That’s why, as my grandmother looked on, I knew my grandfather was with us, holding hands with his bride, to whom he made those same timeless vows nearly a century ago. We buried him a few years ago, but the sureness that he has not ceased to exist is grounded in our shared faith. We are more than material stuff – we are eternal children of God. St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminded us that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” Love is the very nature of Christ. Love and family, then, are intertwined with God.

No, my kairos moment does not reconcile the brokenness of our church. It does not diminish the crimes, the rank offenses, the very antitheses of Christian love that such abuses comprise. It does not excuse mendacity. But it does affirm that our Church is bigger and stronger than its weakest, most horrific parts.

I’ll go to Mass amidst the mess. I support calls for change – including changes in leadership for which many good priests have called. Deep in my heart, I’ll hold to the truths our church and family have taught my brothers and me since we were little. Because in those truths lie faith, hope and love. If those are not the keys to the redemption of our church, I don’t know what possibly could be.


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