After Mass the words of Pope Francis lingered in my mind…
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote. “I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”
I couldn’t help but think that just maybe there was more to these words than met the eye. I sat attentively at Mass listening and agreeing with the priest as he reminded us that as a Church we needed to be active in the ministries outside of our church walls. I knew that as a Church we needed to be more than just rules and procedures, customs and traditions. Sure, those are important, but we need more than that. We need to have dirty fingernails that show we had been toiling alongside the poor; our ears stinging from the burning remarks of those ridiculing our faith; our shoulders bruised from carrying the burdens of those who can’t carry their own crosses. Yes, I understood what Pope Francis was saying to us as a Church. But for some reason I felt there was something more to understand.
I began to pray for understanding.
I don’t know what day it was or what I was doing when I came to understand exactly what I felt God wanted, no, needed me to know about this quote by Pope Francis. I do know that it was an “a-ha” moment for me. I couldn’t believe it took me so long to understand. Maybe I just wasn’t listening. Maybe I already knew the answer in my heart but didn’t want to hear it. Maybe, just maybe, God knew I needed to wait so that I would be truly ready for this revelation.
Unexpected and unprepared, I heard a whispering in my ear, or perhaps it was my heart, that said, “Michelle, YOU are the church and when your life is bruised, hurting, and dirty it means that you have been living! You cannot truly be alive unless you experience everything that life has to offer. This means you must trust God in all you do. You must give your life completely over to Him. You must live outside of yourself. You must live for others. You will suffer for it. You will hurt. You will be bruised. You will get dirty. But through it all you will live.”
That unexpected moment in time gave me such hope. It brought so much light into the darkness that I sometimes find myself stumbling through. It gave meaning to the suffering and heartache that we have been through, will go through. If we lived in a bubble where we never experienced pain or disappointment we could not truly understand or be grateful for all the blessings we have been given. Getting our hands dirty, our hearts bruised and bleeding, and shouldering more hurt than I could have ever imagined shouldering, has helped us to live our lives deeply entrenched in our faith and thus in God’s arms. Our pain has ultimately brought us an unspeakable amount of joy!
While Pope Francis was specifically addressing the Church and her willingness to go into the trenches to do the work that is often unrecognized by others instead of a Church who is self-absorbed, I think that God is also talking to us as individuals as well. While we make up the Church we are also a domestic church. When we stop being worried about what the world thinks of us and if it approves of all we are doing and instead just begin living our lives for God, we truly begin to live. Our lives become a reflection of Christ’s… living for God and for others; sharing our faith; sacrificing self in the name of love; trusting in God’s providence above all. Yes, we will become dirty, bruised and our hearts will hurt, but the grace and gifts we also receive are extraordinary!
I know that to truly live my life in a manner which glorifies our Lord I must get down in the trenches. I must live outside of myself. I have to live my faith in a way that opens my heart to a tremendous amount of suffering and pain. I must get dirty, I must get hurt, and I must be bruised. However, living this way does not only lead to suffering; it also leads to great joy and unfettered love. It leads to closeness with others that I cannot experience in any other manner. It leads me straight into our Savior’s arms.
I am ready to get dirty. I am ready to be hurt and bruised. I am ready to live my life with my eyes and heart fully fixed on God. I am ready to truly live.