One of the homeless men in the basement was snoring. Loudly.
Some years before I entered the Dominican Order, in the middle of a Confirmation class I was teaching, one student announced that he didn’t really believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I tried to offer the most compelling account of the Eucharist I could, and afterwards I talked with him further. There he admitted that the only reason he was in this class—the only reason he was going to Mass on Sundays—was because his parents were making him. “It means nothing to me,” he said flatly.
It had come to mean everything to me. That is why, hours later, when I still couldn’t shake my sadness over the thought of this young man’s self-proclaimed faithlessness, I drove in the January darkness to a nearby parish church. I just wanted to be with the Lord. I wanted to tell Him I believed in Him. I wanted to console Him.
This parish would open its basement as a cot shelter in the winter months. Hence the snoring. As I knelt and listened to that sonorous activity, the sanctuary lamp flickering, I reflected on all the grace Christ offers in the Eucharist and all the good that the Church does—quietly, without recognition—just as she was this night for these men sleeping a floor below. It made me want to try to do more. To offer more of myself.
With time this desire deepened. It grew particularly in sorrow, when I saw the Church suffering and under attack—from without and especially from within, such as from scandals akin to those we have seen unfold this summer. It made me want to stand in the breach (Ezek 22:30). To consecrate myself to God for her. Yes, there is sin, scandal, and corruption among the Church’s human members and ministers. But the Church is not a mere human construct. She is and will remain the Body of Christ—a supernatural reality and the fruit of the Eucharistic mystery (1 Cor 10:16-17). She is the source of reconciliation, healing, and salvation.
It is possible for vocations to come from this time of scandal, precisely because those who are joining religious orders and studying for the priesthood see it as a time not merely of scandal but for reform. We turn to saints of reform, like St. Catherine of Siena, who prayed:
To you, eternal Father,
I offer once again my life,
poor as I am,
for your dear bride.
As often as it pleases your goodness,
drag me out of this body
and send me back again,
each time with greater suffering than before,
if only I may see the reform
of this dear bride, holy church. (Prayer 26)