The Paradox That Is Church – reflections on a poem by Carlo Carretto

A Letter to the Churchlove_hate

How baffling you are, oh Church,

and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer,

and yet how much I owe you!

I would like to see you destroyed,

and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal

and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.

I have seen nothing in the world
more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false,

and yet I have touched nothing
more pure, more generous, more beautiful.

How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face,

and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you,

because I am you, though not completely.

And besides, where would I go?

Would I establish another?

I would not be able to establish it without the same faults,

for they are the same faults I carry in me.

And if I did establish another,

it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ.

And I am old enough to know

that I am no better than anyone else.

– by Carlo Carreto, from The God Who Comes


In my book Paradoxy I use the phrase “a mistake made holy” to describe the paradox that is Church:

On the one hand,
there is no evidence in scripture that Jesus (or Paul, for that matter)
intended to start a new religion called Christianity.

Yet on the other hand,
it is clear that God’s Holy Spirit
has become inextricably bound up in the Church.

On the one hand,
it is clearly fallen.

Yet on the other hand,
it is clearly the body of Christ.

This poem by Carlo Carretto draws our attention not only to the paradox that is Church, but also to our profoundly and paradoxically ambivalent relationship with it.

It is impossible to truly and deeply love the Church without sometimes hating it as well.