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Despite complaints, staying in the midst of the Church is being part of what’s real

     I once wrote a 10-minute play (the genre does exist) called “Horseshoe Bend” about three men sitting in their backyard overlooking a horseshoe bend in the Ohio River at Leavenworth, Ind. one afternoon in July. They complained bitterly about the heat and humidity. At the end of the play one of the wives sticks her head out the back door and says to the three men: “Don’t you want to come here in the house where it’s air conditioned?”

     Pause, while the three think it over. Then . . .

     “Naw, we’re fine out here.”

     Pause. Then . .

     “Hey, hon, could you bring us some beers?”

     I re-read that play recently and upon doing so, I saw something there I had neither seen nor considered before. And that is this: we complain about the Church all the time. It’s too this, or it’s too that. The Church doesn’t respect this group of people or that group of people. The Church needs to do x, y, and z if she really wants to be the Body of Christ!

     But just as those three guys sitting in the backyard looking out over the river on a hot and humid July afternoon, most of us don’t opt out of the Church. Rather, we choose to stay in the heat of the battle and remain within the Mystical Body of Christ.


     For the same reason those three men don’t take up the wife’s offer to come into the house where it is cool and dry: because outside is real.

     If those three men actually went inside and drunk their beers while gazing out the window upon the river below, they would have been mere spectators to the scene. They would not have been in the scene, not been part of it. (DISCLAIMER: I firmly believe that air conditioning is one of the greatest inventions in human history. I love air conditioning. If you grew up in Southern Indiana or points south, you know what I mean. I am speaking, here, metaphorically.)

     Those of us who remain in the Church want to be part of it; we want to be in the moment, even if the moment is putrid. To look at the Church from any other vantage point other than from within it is non-negotiable.

     I remember, when I was a kid, dad driving us down to Old Dam 43 in New Boston, Ind.  (the Army Corp of Engineers blew it out decades ago). The locks there were on the Indiana-side of the Ohio River, and a lovely grassy area with picnic tables was there on the river bank, very near the locks. Families would come in the nice weather and, hopefully, see a barge or two negotiate through the locks while chowing down on skillet fried chicken.

     Now, what if dad had driven us there, and when we arrived had said, “Ok, boys, we’re just going to sit in the car while we’re here today.”

     No way! We had to be out on the blanket, on the grass, feeling the sun, tasting the air, smelling the river, hearing the blast of the tugboat’s horn, seeing the woods on the Kentucky side of the river nearly a mile across the way, throwing sticks and rocks into the stiff current of the river. In other words, we wanted to be part of the scene.

     Same goes with those of us who remain in the Church.

     But doing so sometimes takes patience. Those three men in my play had to be patient with the heat and humidity. Mom and dad had to be patient with the three of us kids running around on the river bank, making sure we didn’t stumble into the Ohio River. Dad ripped off some very colorful words to us if we pushed things too far.

     Throughout her history, the Church has relied on “coo and bellow” to keep its flock together. Some people balk at the bellow and chide the coo. Some heed, others do not. As I said, it sometimes takes patience to stay, and the level of patience is different in each one of us.

     Pope Francis has noted that “we are not living an era of change, but a change in era.”

     Be patient. The Church has weathered such change before. She shall weather this as well. As Julian of Norwich wrote, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Or as the old hymn says, “The strife is o’er, the battle done.”

     Course, a cold beer would help smooth things out rather nicely, too.


     Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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