“And were an epitaph to be my story / I’d have a short one ready for my own. / I would have written of me on my stone: / I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
The great American poet Robert Frost, who died in 1963, wrote his epitaph more than two decades before he died. They were in a poem entitled “The Lesson for Today.”
I have always liked Frost’s poetry, and in particular the words of his epitaph. I think the reason is that, with a slight modification, I would like to use them as my own epitaph. The modification would be: “I had a lover’s quarrel with my Church.”
Of course, the challenge is going to be convincing my siblings that this is a good idea.
As I write this, the report and resulting revelations about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick have been made public. The failures and inadequacies of so many in positions of leadership in our church that allowed McCarrick to rise to a place of prominence are absolutely stunning. Perhaps even worse is that I suspect none of them will acknowledge their failings, and I strongly doubt whether any of them will face any consequences for their actions (or lack thereof).
This is, or should be, a cause for great anger and profound disappointment.
I love the Catholic Church. I love its rituals, its sacraments, its teachings, the various forms of prayer and spirituality that it offers, and its emphasis on social justice. I love Pope Francis even though I often find his words challenging. The Catholic Church has been my spiritual home my entire life. I cannot imagine leaving it, and if I did, I can’t imagine finding anything to replace it.
And yet, there have been times when it has broken my heart. It has been slow to respond to important issues of the day. It hasn’t always treated people, especially women and sexual minorities, with respect and dignity. And frankly the leadership of our church has often been disappointing at best — the McCarrick case being only the most recent example.
Despite the failures of so many in leadership positions in our church, however, and despite the fact that many people have left our church, I choose to remain. The reasons I stay are many and varied, but fundamentally, I love the church too much to leave it. In this regard, I am fond of quoting the late comedian Phyllis Diller, who famously said: “Don’t go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.”
I think that’s good advice. We need people to love our church enough to stay and fight for a church that is open, honest and transparent. We need people to love the church enough to stay and fight for leadership that is accountable and responsible. We need people to love the church enough to stay and fight to help our church be the church they want it to be. We need people who are willing to stay and have a “lover’s quarrel” with our church.
The Rev. John M. Bauer is a pastor at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.