What is the best response to the feeling of losing control? Is it to hang on harder, or is it to ease up?
Hang on tighter, almost anybody would say. Anybody, that is, except those of us who have driven a car through a fair number of icy patches in winter -- we know that you turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid when you begin the slide, not against it. Counterintuitive, but it works.
Or those of us who have attempted to feed a toddler a healthy diet. You want them to eat, but if you make a big fuss about it, they sense their power and refuse. Just have an array of good things for dinner and treat it as the pleasant social occasion it is, and they'll choose one or two of them. They won't starve if you don't make an issue of it.
And, of course, those of us who long for the ones we love to have the life of faith that has given us life. Hang on tight, we think. But no -- just live your life of faith and take them along. If they reject yours, don't panic; be glad you gave them something they cared enough about to reject, and respect their journey. In the end, the apple usually doesn't fall far from the tree. And, if it does, there's probably good soil where it ends up, too.
In order to do all these things, of course, a person needs a basic trust in the goodness of life. We can't let go very well if we think the universe is waiting with a clenched fist for us to make a wrong move, so it can give us a thorough thrashing. Is life good, or isn't it? Is God love, or is God something less than love? For, if God is love, we have nothing to fear on either side of the grave.
Pope Benedict has chosen this week, in this era -- already an anxious one, where religious things are concerned -- to insist that it is the Church alone in which we must put our trust. His church, to be exact, and to suggest further that there really aren't any other churches worthy of the name. All the others, except for the Orthodox, are more like religious societies.
I love the Church, too. I even love the Pope's Church, and deeply respect and honor the tradition and history we share. I love every last bishop in the apostolic succession that seems to His Holiness to form such an unassailable wall against communion and fellowship; some of them were saints and some were sinners, and God loved them all and still does. I don't think that God is contained by the Church, though. I think God is free.
In the end, it's probably not as important to define our terms carefully as it is to embody the mission of love and justice they attempt to describe. The fallen-away former altar boy who can do that is probably closer to the Kingdom of God than the cardinal who can't. A church that could embrace them both would be a fine thing to see.