Chimneys and the Church

When we moved into our house some years ago  the region was in the throes of a “chimney sleeve” scam.  There were different variations on the scam – some of the shysters came out of homes carrying buckets of debris supposedly from the chimney, others had state of the art cameras which snaked down the inside of the chimney.  The goal, however, was the same: convince unsuspecting homeowners to purchase expensive aluminum pipes costing thousands of dollars that would, the con men maintained, stop the carbon monoxide that was likely leaking into the house. ( Mention the possibility of “carbon monoxide” poisoning – an invisible, odorless lethal gas -to anyone with kids and you have their terrified attention.)

I was one of these unsuspecting homeowners. Three different companies informed me that my chimney was cracking and my family was in danger.  Fortunately, my Dad was out visiting one Sunday during this time and said to me he thought something was fishy. “Get one more estimate before you do anything”, he said.

When the fourth man arrived, everything was different.  He inspected the chimney carefully and told me that all I needed was a chimney cap – an item designed to keep birds and squirrels and twigs from falling into the chimney.  The repair didn’t even cost $100 dollars.

I was incredulous. This seemed too good to be true.  “What about the cracks in the chimney pipe I saw on the cameras?”, I asked.

“That’s what a chimney looks like”, he said. 
“How about that bucket of  broken pieces that came out of my house?” I continued.

  With just a hint of a smile he said, “they keep the buckets in the trucks and carry them in and out.”

 Then he sighed just a little bit and said, “You know, you’re the third homeowner today I’ve had this conversation with.  Here I am trying to be honest, and because these guys lie I’m the one who looks like a crook.”

I know how he felt.   Through the documents of the Vatican II Council, the Holy Spirit announced to the world some beautiful truths – that  The Church was the People of God, a community within which EVERYONE had a vocation to holiness and thus the right and responsibility to have his/her voice heard.   That the Church was the “sacrament of God’s Love” to the world whose sole reason for existence was to enter into the joys and hopes and pain and suffering of all God’s children so that all might come to know Christ’s love and rejoice in it.  That “elements of truth and sanctification” exist in all faiths, not just the Roman Catholic Church,thus we can learn much from these other religions. 

Seems to me the voices getting the most press these days are those that emphasize the difference between clerical vocations and the vocation of the laity.  Those that focus on the ways in which the world is different from and in opposition to the values and goals of the  Church.  Those that point out the ways in which other faiths fall short in proclaiming the truths which the Roman Catholic Church uniquely possesses.

Now, of course, this analogy is not perfect.  The conflict I am depicting is not mainly the result of intentional deceptions. Often times good people can simply disagree.  Yet it’s hard to put into words the sadness I feel when, having proclaimed to the best of my ability those earlier truths, I see a skepticism and melancholy in the eyes of my students – both children and adults – as if they are saying, “If only it were really true that the Church was like that.”

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

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