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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: April 11, 2020
By Ben Riley
I wrote this essay for a seminary-wide writing competition. We were asked to write how we envision the Church in the next 10 years. In light of this health crisis we are all now facing, I believe it is important for us all to consider how this pandemic will affect our Church in the near and distant future.
There is a very real possibility that some people will not return to the sacraments after being separated from them for so long. However, I believe there is an even greater possibility that our separation from the Eucharist in particular will stir in us a burning desire to return to the sacraments, when it is safe, with a desire and fervor we had not previously encountered.
There is a church on a hill due east of town. The church used to be the center of our small town life, but things have changed, priorities have shifted, and the church is now on the outskirts, the periphery. The hill the church is perched atop is not tall; it has been eroded by the flooding river. If you have ever visited the church, then you must have crossed the river. The putrid water of abuse, scandal and sin is hard to miss.
It will take time and it won’t be easy, but if we are serious about answering the Lord’s call to “go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation,” then rebuilding is our only option. We will dam up the river of abuse and scandal and stop it at its source.
In truth, it is good that the river must be crossed in order to reach the church. It serves as a constant reminder of just how destructive the river can be and has been. Please, don’t spend too much time standing on the bridge over the river. It does the soul no good to dwell on such things. After all, the flood waters have been receding for years and the water is becoming clearer.
The church is not very large, in fact it is shrinking rapidly. I suppose this church fits the needs of our town, our evergrowing and changing town. Wouldn’t it be beautiful, though, to see the church full again? The church is old, very old, and though it isn’t abandoned, it has not been taken care of. Two of the stained-glass windows have been broken, the door scrapes the ground as it opens, what paint is left is chipped and faded and the statue of Mother Mary is missing four fingers.
Through all its suffering and pain, the church on a hill does have one thing that sustains it: its congregation. The people love their church on a hill. Every Sunday the faithful brave the long walk over the river to praise God and receive the Eucharist. They also recognize that if their church is going to survive, something has to be done.
One of two things could be done to ensure the survival of our church on a hill. We could insolate ourselves, protect what we already have and not reach for more. We could board up the shattered stained-glass windows, close the scraping door and lock it. For certain, this would protect us and ensure our survival, but our church was not built simply to survive but indeed to thrive as the essential connection to our God.
The other thing we could do is rebuild. It will take time and it won’t be easy, but if we are serious about answering the Lord’s call to “go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation,” then rebuilding is our only option. We will dam up the river of abuse and scandal and stop it at its source.
We will invite others to join us in our efforts, and we will not lose hope. We will do this because we know our hope is in the name of the Lord, and the power of darkness will not prevail over his Church. Our prayer will be “Lord Jesus, Son of God, I trust in you.”
Ben Riley, a member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, is a diocesan seminarian, attending St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. He is scheduled to be ordained a deacon Aug. 14. This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.