Church should be a safe place(?)

"Giant" by Francisco Goya
“Giant” by Francisco Goya

“Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” they yell in old movies as they BANG! BANG! BANG! for dear life on the Church doors…

Should Church be a safe place?

For years I’ve struggled with a fear of vulnerability (due to a past, unhealthy relationship). In our broken + social-media-masquerade culture, I’m not alone. We all have our weaknesses, wounds, doubts, and struggles. Yes — and especially our sins.

But when I walk into a church, should I feel able to be a weak, wounded, doubting, struggling sinner? Shouldn’t I feel free to be honest — not just with God in my heart, or my conscience — but with everybody in the Church?

Do you?

Yes, I know that I know that I know that “Church is a hospital” — haven’t we all heard it before?

The problem with that is, when I walk into Church, or when I am with the circles of Orthodox Catholics and Jesus-Loving, Happy People that live in my life, aren’t I scandalizing them when I fail to smile? Aren’t they judging that I’ve somehow “failed in my Christian walk” when my bottom lip is smug and something’s eating away at my gut?

There’s always those well-meaning Church People who feel it’s their job to command, “SMILE! God loves you!” Yes, I know God loves me, but it’s not healthy to go around smiling all the time. Can’t I feel horrible every once in a while? I can’t imagine Our Lord smiling as he carried the Cross.

The Church has never  told anybody that it is a place of comfort or security in any ordinary psychological sense. Anyone who comes to the Church for that purpose is wrong. There is nothing of that sort available in the Church. There never has been. No, it isn’t that kind of institution. At the speed of light there is nothing but violence possible, and violence kills every boundary. Even territory is violated at the speed of light. There is no place left to hide. It becomes a church of the soul.

– Marshall McLuhan, convert to Catholicism

The images of Church as Sanctuary and Mother are each beautiful and true. Yet, a lovely thing about Christianity: The Prince of Peace brought “not peace, but the sword.” Guess I’ll just keep on walking this 2,000 year-old tight rope.

But my question remains: Of all places, why can’t we feel safely vulnerable in Church? Should we?


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