Fulton Sheen’s Helpful Analogy For Discouraged Catholics

“I can’t deal with the Catholic Church anymore.” “There is too much scandal and corruption.” “The Church is full of hypocrites and I’m leaving.”

We have all heard these comments from fellow Catholics (or maybe even pondered them ourselves). It is not difficult to find instances of scandal and corruption within the Church. For faithful Catholics, it can sometimes become exhausting to read about the human failures of lay and religious leaders. Maybe it would be easier to leave. Maybe we should “stick it to the man” and get out.

The Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen reflected upon this concern among Catholics: 

“The Church is like Noah’s ark that was full of both clean and unclean animals. It must have had an unholy smell, and yet it was carrying eight persons to salvation. The world today is tearing up the photographs of a good society, a good family, a happy individual personal life. But the Church is keeping the negatives. And when the moment comes when the world wants a reprint, we will have them.”

Imagine life on Noah’s ark. Confined spaces; animals that want to eat each other; the sounds; the smells; a constant 40-day storm rocking the boat; seasickness; family in close proximity. Who would ever want to experience such an episode?

Now imagine the time of Noah leading up to the construction of the ark. Imagine this man and his family building a large, gaudy boat. Imagine the neighbors laughing at this crazy family. If those neighbors knew what we know now, I’m guessing they would have jumped on board. They would have gladly climbed onto the ark, because the alternative was swimming, and that didn’t work out too well.

Have you ever felt like the “crazy family” of Noah? Have your neighbors ever looked at you and scratched their heads? Maybe you are “strange” for going to confess your sins to a priest. Maybe you receive strange looks for abstaining from meat during Fridays, especially during Lent. Maybe you cling to the moral teachings of the Church in a society that is constantly screaming the opposite. Fulton Sheen rightly tells us: The Catholic Church is Noah’s ark. The Church will lead us to the saving shores of heaven.

“But my parish has dreadful music.”

“My priest gives terrible homilies.”

“There are no programs for youth and children.”

“The mega church has awesome music, preaching, and family activities.”

“Shouldn’t we just head down the road this Sunday?” With respect, no we should not. Jesus himself says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).” 

Plowing the field (being a follower of Jesus, and an obedient member of His Church) can be lonely and difficult. Plowing is hard work. The sun gets hot; you sweat; your arms get sore; you might be plowing all by yourself. Jesus says don’t look back! St. Paul urges us to keep our “eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).”

So what do we do if we are downtrodden and demoralized by the Church? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says: 

“What must be done? Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out? Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed. Only obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ can point the way.”

Obedience will point the way. It can be difficult to practice obedience in today’s world. This is not to suggest a complete capitulation to “pay, pray, and obey.” Rather, we are asked to follow the model of Our Lord himself, who demonstrates for us the ultimate form of love through the self-giving act of obedience. “He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:8)

In this world, we will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Jump on the ark, and allow our Lord to calm the storms.

image: Portrait of Fulton J. Sheen by Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer / Wikimedia Commons [Public domain].

By

Mark Haas is a Catholic composer and speaker. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia, with his wife and their five original compositions. www.markhaasmusic.com

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