Bill McGarvey: In defense of institutions: has President Trump awakened a giant?

(America Magazine) Events of the past few weeks have me thinking about an experience I had over 10 years ago. I was attending an interfaith discussion when a woman in the audience got up and challenged an older Jesuit on the panel. She asked him how he could remain in the church after the horrors of the sex abuse scandal. The distinguished Jesuit very politely thanked her for the question and then calmly, and without defensiveness, responded: “In my 50 years of religious life I have learned two things. The first is that institutions are necessary. The second is that they are meant to be resisted at all costs.”

That comment has stayed with me because it articulated an inherent tension that resonates with my own life. During times of strain in my relationship with the church, I can always point to the fact that, in spite of its sins, it is also the church of Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and Dorothy Day, which continues to make Christ’s message of mercy and hope tangible to countless people around the globe.

Research has long told us that we live in an age in which institutional affiliation and trust are dwindling in terms of our religious, political, civic and social lives. It can begin to feel as though committing to anything beyond our own self is an act of existential bad faith. As though people are holding out for a person, family or organization that perfectly reflects every facet of their diamond-like uniqueness before making a commitment. It takes time and experience to understand that this perfect reflection simply does not exist (and may not be desirable even if it did). The truth is we do not engage life as a simple, binary matching system; much of our lives are lived in complex, dynamic relationships with competing interests. [More]


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