“I am with you, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19b
Winter is a season of solidarity. People come together – less by attraction than compulsion – because the season’s longevity and frigidity force them to find comfort in the company of one another. In winter we learn, as individuals, that we’re not self-sufficient: we need each other. But winter as a spiritual season is more isolating. In the coldness of God’s apparent absence, we tend to batten down the hatches, to hibernate apart from the group, or trudge off alone into the unknown darkness. We need others, but we choose to be alone.
In winter, the Church is meant to be a source of warmth and camaraderie, because we can huddle together around the light of Christ. More often, however, the Church feels like an igloo: a shelter made from ice and snow, which is supposed to protect us from… ice and snow. It might offer temporary refuge, but many don’t want to stay too long. After all, being in a faith setting can be difficult if our faith is faltering. Nobody wants to ‘fake it till they make it.’ And who wants to stick around in a culture where ineptitude, monotony, and hypocrisy seem to be so common?
Yet, for all the good reasons to leave the Church, there are even better reasons to stay. Apart from the fact that the Church is seldom amended by abandoning it, nor the abandoner improved apart from it – the fact that the Church is deeply flawed is relatively good news. It demonstrates just how unfailing God’s crazy-love is for such a sorry group of people.
God always keeps His family close, and we’re to do likewise. As St. Augustine said, “The Church may be a whore, but she is my mother.” Certainly, she’s occasionally put her faith in progress over providence, but she’s still the mother of our hope. She may have given to Caesar things that are God’s, and vice versa, but she’s still the matriarch of grace and salvation. She’s done many things wrong, even when there was every reason and resource to do right, but God’s fidelity to her is forever. Surely, then, if our terrible mother has received such wonderful love from our Father – the kind that always lasts and never fails – there’s every reason to hope for their struggling children. In fact, to spend our winter within the Church is to be a part of the greatest guarantee imaginable: for Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Indeed, God will come by the winter’s end, and in the meantime we can prepare our hearts for His arrival.