Our Church crisis
Like many, I have been reacting to the blogosphere and news reports regarding Cardinal McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the associated Chile and Honduras priest scandals. Emotions of anger, sadness and betrayal emerge as I read and reflect on the situation. At first those feelings are aimed at the priests and bishops who betrayed their sacred charge as protectors of individuals who are members of the Body of Christ. Secondly, they are also directed at the hysterical media who have not honestly reported the true extent and nature of the abuse, abuse due to a predatory homosexual lifestyle.
Moreover, there is the latest claim by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that the Holy Father himself knew what Cardinal McCarrick had done and may have contributed to a cover up of his sins. The back and forth discussion in the news and the blogosphere raises another issue: whom to believe? And a more important question: whom to trust in the Church?
Volumes have been written on the causes of this crisis and the possible ways to alleviate the situation; we do not need to be rehash these here. The bottom line is that evil has crept into my Church and that some priests and bishops have willingly cooperated with the father of lies. The warrior in me wants to fight, but where and how? I have no authority, no platform, no army, and no mission. To be sure, I can write opinion essays or write letters to my Bishop or show support for the majority of clergy who demonstrate fidelity to Christ, his teachings and his Church. However, that does not seem to offer the necessary consolation.
Finding a bearing from Church history
While I must wait while the scandal plays out, the emotions and concerns will still be with me. Ultimately, it comes down to how do I let the scandal affect me? Do I let it cause me to doubt, to lose my faith, or to question the Church’s teachings? I, for one, will not let evil win, make me despondent or make me defensive; this means I must have a bearing. In teaching land navigation with map and compass, I emphasize “shooting a bearing,” having a compass direction to follow. In this context a bearing is needed, which I believe is the Church itself, and more specifically, the Mass and the Eucharist.
Church history shows us the bearing. History tells us, going all the way back to Judas, that the members and leaders of the Church have not always been righteous. One constant theme throughout that history has been the temptation for the leaders in the Church to succumb to the world and its temptations. Whether the temptation was wealth, power or sexual activity, the temptation has always been with us. Satan is always waiting at the door to assist.
What is being exposed in the current circumstances is not a new phenomenon, but rather a new chapter in that ongoing battle. The promise that Christ gave us in Matthew 16:18 is that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church”. It may seem now that just the opposite is occurring. However, I think it is more that we may have lost a battle. We must have the confidence that we will, eventually, win the war. We need to have the faith that leaders can arise to the occasion and deal with the current crisis in a way that the church emerges stronger with more fidelity and integrity. History documents that the Church always has done so.
The shepherd’s reminder
An Old Testament reading for August 22nd dealt with chapter 34 of Ezekiel: the leaders of Israel were admonished for not being good shepherds. How appropriate at this time. Ezekiel serves as the call for holiness and accountability by our priests and bishops as our shepherds. I hope that hearing that message within the context of the Mass and the present crisis will emphasize the need for clergy and laity to be faithful to Catholic teaching in a spiritual way, unique for each. At some level, we all need to be shepherds practicing and overseeing the faith, whether in our family or our parish.
Trusting that the Church will respond effectively to the present crisis, I raise the question: how can I, as one layperson, have confidence that the Church will be renewed? Moreover, how can I continue in my faith journey and not be distracted by this scandal and at the same time do “my part’ to move the Church forward?
Setting a bearing on the Mass and the Eucharist
A more essential and transcendent bearing is required. An answer is provided in a renewed focus on the Mass and the Eucharist. Only the Catholic Church provides the sacrifice of the Mass and the Church has shown a continuous fidelity to that mission for over 2000 years. The Gospel reading for Sunday, August 19th (John 6:51-58)—Christ’s Bread of Life discourse on the Eucharist— helps to provide such a renewed focus.
First, the Eucharist is truly the source and summit of our faith. It is the spiritual nourishment to sustain us in times of trials and troubles. As the fuel for our faith journey, it aids us to withstand the worldly temptations and, in turn, enable us to be a witness to the world. But, it can only be a sustaining force if we let it. If we focus on the body and blood of Jesus we can sense his presence.
Keeping the Eucharist and its celebration in mind
Consequently, we have to discipline ourselves to avoid the distractions to maintain that focus. The scandal can be such a distraction. The challenge is to clear our minds and hearts to allow his presence to enter. Eucharistic adoration is an extended experience that can also give a bearing. It is a bearing that can allow us to put the scandal, with all the noise attending it, into its proper importance. Since Jesus can give us his body and blood, he will not let the Church succumb to the evil deeds currently done by some in our Church. It is an act of fidelity.
Some would say that focusing on the Eucharist while negative and evil acts have been committed by clergy is putting one’s head in the sand. I would maintain quite the opposite. The sacrifice of the Mass is what the faith is all about independent of the failures of us humans. The scandal is a failure of human fidelity, not of the Church. It is important to keep that in mind if we are to continue on our faith journey. One thing the Church has always been faithful to is the Eucharist and its celebration in the Mass.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.