Recently, I have been reflecting upon how we, as Catholics, are called to be pat of the family of God. What would we, as a people and as the Church, look like if we treated each other as family members? What if, instead of just mindlessly standing next to each other in the pews at Mass, we stepped outside of our comfort zones and daily routines to actually care about that nameless parishioner sitting next to us?
In 2013, during one of his Wednesday addresses, Pope Francis referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son. In his talk the Pope asks:
“What is God’s plan? It is to make us all the one family of his children, in which each of you feels close to Him and feels loved by Him – feels, as in the parable, the warmth of being the family of God. In this great design, the Church finds its source. [The Church] is not an organization founded by an agreement among [a group of] persons, but – as we were reminded many times by Pope Benedict XVI – is the work of God: it was born out of the plan of love, which realizes itself progressively in history. The Church is born from the desire of God to call all people into communion with Him, to His friendship, and indeed, as His children, to partake of His divine life.”
Later, in the same talk, the Pope encourages us to “escape from individualism, [from] the tendency to withdraw into ourselves, and calls us to be a part of His family.”
As Catholics, we are called to live in communion with one another. We are not just called to gather together for Mass on Sunday (though that is an important part). It’s also about being present for each other outside the realm of the Mass. We are called to care for each other when our family members are hurting. It’s about giving them support when they are going through financial difficulties. Lending a hand when a family member is recovering from surgery. It’s about spending time with each other and praying for each other.
Betrayal, Anger, and Sadness
I, like many Catholics in America, was devastated when The Pennsylvania Grand Jury released its report on sex abuse in the five Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. Not least of which because I’m a parishioner and employee of the Harrisburg diocese (one of the five under investigation).
Like most of us, my heart broke as I forced myself to read the findings of the investigators. I couldn’t believe how such abuse could have been allowed to continue and be covered up for over five decades. Fighting the feelings of betrayal, anger, and sadness, I asked myself: “Do I still believe?”
I spent countless hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, during quiet times in church, and simply stared up at the crucified Christ, wrestling with my mixed emotions. I searched through Bible passages and read many different Scripture reflections to help me come to terms with that question. But again and again, I kept coming back to the Prayer of St. Francis.
Be a Peacemaker
For those who aren’t familiar with the prayer, it says:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.”
In particular, the phrase “Be an instrument of peace” kept coming back to me. So, in light of the scandal, I feel it is my role to be a peacemaker in the family of God. In the wake of the news outbreak, as expected, some people have left the Church, others view the clergy with suspicion, and many more still have unanswered questions and hurts.
The people who have left the Church or who are suspicious or questioning are the family members we should be actively seeking out. Right now, they need us because we are the ones who have chosen to stay and defend the Church. We are the ones who need to show them that the Church is still beautiful, still relevant, and still holy. Despite the current and previous scandals, Christ still loves us and will protect His Church.
We need to show them that there’s still so much goodness that the Church has to offer. We should be thankful for the thousands of wonderful priests and bishops who stay true to their vows and minister to us. Rather than allowing this sex scandal to wreck us, we need to band together as a family. We need to stand by each other, praying that God, who started a good work in us, will help us through.