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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: May 9, 2020
By Paula Standridge
St. John the Baptist Church, Hot Springs
In 2015 Pope Francis made an historic visit to the United States. The television coverage of his visit was constant and intensive. Every move he made and appearance even so slight was chronicled. There were thousands of people in the streets of New York waiting for a glimpse of the pope. I asked my husband, “Who are all these people? They can’t be all Catholic.”
We knew the Church was ridiculed and many times despised, especially in light of the sexual abuse crisis. As I pondered on this phenomenon of the throngs of people and the intense interest in this visit, it came to me that even though a good part of these people were not Catholic, they still recognized that the Catholic presence in the world was vital and necessary — even if this was not admitted or realized. These people might not be Catholic or Christian or even believers, but they still needed us to be.
We suffer from addictions, from despair, from hopelessness, from all of the world’s woes and temptations, but as militant Catholics we do our best to respond to these crises with faith, determination, prayer, continually getting up after falling or failing.
The members of the Church are made up of three “states.” The Church triumphant are those in heaven who have achieved their final reward. The Church penitent (or Church suffering) are those souls who are undergoing purification in purgatory before they enter the guarantee of heaven. The third state is the Church militant — that’s us. We are still pilgrims on the journey, fighting the good fight, praying, sinning, confessing, witnessing. We militant Catholics are vital in this world.
While it is imperative to have holy saints among us (St. Teresa of Kolkata, St. John Paul II), it is critical that we also have penitent sinners in our midst in plain view of the world who are struggling but faithful, determined and unyielding in the midst of frustrations and failures. The March 28 issue of Arkansas Catholic was full of articles on the subject of addictions. But the articles did not just offer help in the way of phone numbers or organizations to contact.
For every addiction mentioned there was a name and a face. These extremely brave members of the Church militant were telling their stories and sharing their struggles. Lest we think that everyone we see in church has already achieved perfection, the stories were of priests, eucharistic ministers, cradle Catholics from all walks of life.
These witnesses are so important. The world needs to know that in many ways we are not different from the unbelievers or the quasi-believers. We suffer from addictions, from despair, from hopelessness, from all of the world’s woes and temptations, but as militant Catholics we do our best to respond to these crises with faith, determination, prayer, continually getting up after falling or failing. The world may not see our holiness as something they can relate to, but they can sure see our sinfulness as something shared.
I have a non-Catholic friend I have known since college who does not attend church services. However, any time we are traveling together, and that travel involves a Sunday or holy day of obligation she always attends Mass with me. She asks, “What time is Mass? We don’t want to be late.” She sings, follows the readings and prays the response and gives to the collection. In some ways I feel like I am her connection to God. For those who can’t or won’t or don’t know yet how to reach their hand to God they do sometimes find a way to reach their hand to us.
This reaching out to the visible, tangible members of the Church militant is, I believe, why the pope’s visit was covered so thoroughly. They need us to be us — we give them hope.