In a sign of the times, when a Catholic Facebook friend began a status update by stating how hot she was, my first thought was “Oh no! Is there another scandal?” It turns out she was referring to the temperature in her home without central air conditioning.
Stay, or Go?
The shell-shocks of the past few weeks have shaken up my Catholic friends. Despite their dismay in the leadership of the Church, many of them will remain faithful. Unfortunately, I have read declarations from several Catholics who proclaim they are leaving. Others have questioned how we can know Catholic teachings are true when our leaders are complicit in immoral behavior. They debate whether to stay or go.
I have seen much agony these weeks from those who love the Church. Most have found it helpful if their priests and bishops share their distress. Some have heard nothing from their shepherds, making the struggle more difficult.
I am fortunate. I attend daily Mass at one parish and worship at a different church on weekends. Both priests are full of passion, and neither minces words.
When the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the actions of Archbishop McCarrick were first revealed, the priest at the parish I attend daily addressed it in his homilies. He also wrote a column in the parish bulletin. After expressing his anger and sorrow at the “monstrous crime of sexual abuse,” he said that anyone who has experienced abuse anywhere should first make a report with the police. If the abuser is someone in the Church, follow up by reporting it to the diocese. He stated that abuse is never justified. In other words, do not blame yourself if you are a victim of abuse. He also stressed not to let anybody dissuade you from reporting your experience.
All of those points are important to hear.
The week after the testimony of Cardinal Vigano broke, the priest where my husband and I attend Sunday Mass took some time to discuss it, along with the other scandals. He reminded us that this is not the only time the Church has been confronted with corruption. He challenged us: Do you leave during crunch time or do you stay?
The Lincoln Option
Bishop Robert Barron created a widely viewed video encouraging Catholics to stay. He suggests:
Rather, what’s called for is the Lincoln option: fighting for the Church that we believe in so powerfully; seeing this blight, naming it clearly, unambiguously, but then fighting to set things right. It’s not the moment for cutting and running. It’s the moment for getting into the fight.
I have seen much speculation from non-Catholics (and some Catholics) as to why anybody would fight for the Church. Some consider those who will not leave to be blind followers. They do not understand that our reasons for being Catholic transcend the acts of some in the Church, even those who are in leadership positions.
I am a cradle Catholic who decided as an adult to remain in the Church. Growing up I felt close to Jesus, but I did not understand what the Catholic church was. CCD classes were worthless when it came to explaining Catholic teachings. I grew up thinking that I could figure out what Jesus was telling us as well as any church could, even though there are a lot of brilliant minds disagreeing with each other on just about any theological topic.
In my adult years, I had a crisis of faith. Like the faith crisis of so many others, it began because of suffering. It started with my mother. She had developed myriad mental and physical health problems. While she fought valiantly, I prayed.
At the beginning of her ordeal, mom would develop a serious illness and my family would be concerned but hopeful. In time she would improve a bit and learn to live with new limitations. I would praise God for that. Then the next symptom would show up, and we’d start the whole thing over again, with each new trial darkening her life a bit more.
After a while, it was difficult to understand how she could endure. I cannot even count the number of times we told her she had hit bottom and had no way to go but up, only to be proven wrong again.
Prayer became frustrating. Sometimes I cried to the heavens, “Does anybody hear me?” Mom trusted God so much, and when she first became ill, I shared that trust. I still have a lot to learn. At that time it never occurred to me that confidence in God didn’t necessarily mean to trust Him to heal us or solve all of our troubles.
Then it was my turn to develop health problems. I was often in a great deal of pain from what would turn out to be appendicitis. I was misdiagnosed repeatedly. It was over a year before my appendix was removed. Ultimately it only happened because I insisted on surgery. When the surgeon operated, he discovered that my appendix had ruptured.
There were complications from this ordeal, difficulties that would take a long time to fix. Much of the next several years were spent bedridden, drugged and in pain. It cost me my job. I felt worthless and depressed.
Between what my mom was enduring and what I was going through, I found it more and more difficult to believe in a caring God.
I would read stories of other people’s sufferings and find tears streaming down my face, wondering why God would allow this. It was a very dark time in my life. I questioned the very existence of God.
I decided it was time to explore religion more fully. It seemed that the place to start would be with Catholic teachings. Maybe it was my Catholic faith that was lacking. Would becoming Protestant help my belief and understanding?
Studying Church teaching was the first time I realized that the Catholic church has the audacity to proclaim it possesses the fullness of truth. None of my Protestant friends would say that about their denominations. Quite the opposite; they would say no man can be infallible, including the people who lead their churches.
That realization was big for me. It occurred to me that if God cares about truth, He must have left us with a way to find it. It makes no sense to proclaim that the Holy Spirit teaches each person individually. If that were so, we would not have the divisions we do among intelligent, prayerful Christians who share a passionate love for God. Different denominations do not even agree on what is essential to salvation.
History took care of the rest. We know that Jesus started a church. History shows us that the Church that has been around since the time of Jesus is the Catholic Church. Considering all the charges of how the Church changed over the centuries and supposedly fell into apostasy, I looked at dogma and doctrine and learned how unchanging Catholic teachings have been throughout the centuries.
The Church is frequently accused of being behind the times. This is because the truth doesn’t change.
I enjoy more clarity with Church teachings now. Those I could not understand become more clear with time. As I age, I realize how true it is that God is good all the time, even when He seems to make no sense. God created us, and He knows that following His laws is necessary for our fulfillment.
I still do not suffer or witness the pains of my loved ones well. At some point, though, I realized that just because I didn’t understand why God allows it and why, in our crying out to Him for relief, He doesn’t always say “yes,” it doesn’t disprove that God loves.
I will remain Catholic because Catholicism possesses the fullness of truth. Truth does not change just because some in the Church ignore its teachings. Jesus did not leave us a Bible; He left a church. That Church still worships like the early Church and still teaches what the early Church did.
Jesus did not abandon us. I will not leave the Church He gifted us with, despite the corruption of some within it.
Attending Mass on September 5, I was struck by a line in the first reading. 1 Cor 3:4 (NABRE) says “Whenever someone says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?” I do not belong to the Pope, the Bishops, or the Priests. I belong to God and will remain in the church started by Jesus.
These times can bring out the warrior in us if we let it. On September 1, Father Kyle Doustou wrote on his Facebook page:
The church was packed for confessions this afternoon, and they were some of the best I’ve ever heard. The devotion and reverence during the distribution of Holy Communion was palpable. I could see a new boldness and fervor in the eyes of the faithful as I greeted them after Mass, and their comments confirmed as much. Things are falling apart and yet God’s people are becoming more and more rock solid. Something is happening, folks…
The saints we so desperately need are on their way. Buckle up.
Crunch time is here. What are you going to do? I invite you to allow these times to grow you in holiness. Join me in buckling up.