Semi-mocking what many would call “the one true church” Nick Kristof took aim at the Catholic Church’s hierarchy this weekend. He details two members of our church, a priest and a nun who have given their very lives for the poor. He goes on:

There are so many more like them. There’s Father Mario Falconi, an Italian priest who refused to leave Rwanda during the genocide and bravely saved 3,000 people from being massacred. There’s Father Mario Benedetti, a 72-year-old Italian priest based in Congo who fled with his congregation when their town was attacked by a brutal militia. Now Father Mario lives side by side with his Congolese congregants in the squalor of a refugee camp in southern Sudan, struggling to get schooling for their children.

It’s because of brave souls like these that I honor the Catholic Church. I understand why many Americans disdain a church whose leaders are linked to cover-ups and antediluvian stances on women, gays and condoms — but the Catholic Church is far larger than the Vatican.

And unless we’re willing to endure beatings alongside Father Michael, unless we’re willing to stand up to warlords with Sister Cathy, we have no right to disparage them or their true church.

What Mr. Kristof misses is that there are millions of simple people amongst the non-ordained and non-religious life who do the exact same thing–but get much fewer accolades and even less support. I think of Maria Nordone who left a lucractive corporate career on Wall Street to “find herself” in the slums of a Nicaraguan orphanage. An adoption of one of the orphans would soon come later, but she also decided that her skills would be best used as the Executive Director of the organization that ran the orphanage and others like it in some of the poorest countries in the world: Mustard Seed Communities.

I think of the students, the countless students, most of whom wouldn’t know a Legionaire from a Jesuit and who barely know what I do as a Campus Minister. I think of the many spring breaks that they left behind to serve the poor in cities all over the world. That first experience of poverty is always eye-opening and a further examination of their political and moral alliances often leave them disturbed and in need of their campus minister to help put their religious lives back together from the faith of a child to the faith of an adult.

What Kristof misses is that much of our clergy need much of the laity and wherever you see life springing forth in the church, you often see young people inspired by someone and by a cause. What has their experience of the church been? What do they offer to the church in return?

Celebrate that and you will celebrate Jesus–whose heart beats and pulses within not only those who are ordained clergy but also in those who have been inspired from a number of sources to find God working within them to bring love to those who need it.

That’s what liturgy really means–the work of the people. It is there that we meet Jesus and it is there that we share that love with the world

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