Like the rest of my fellow Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, my heart has a continual, aching heaviness. In these terrible but necessary days of revelation of clerical sins and weaknesses we search for a way forward, a way out of the mire. After a full year of true and false accusations being made against our clergy, New York State has passed into law the “Child Victims Act” which allows victims to civilly sue their alleged abusers until the age of 55, an increase from the previous age of 23. Additionally, for one calendar year starting this past August 14th victims can put forth a civil lawsuit for alleged abuse, regardless of how many years ago it is purported to have been.
At the final judgment there will be no “allegedly,” no “purportedly.” We will all see each other’s sins as plain as day. Here in New York State we are experiencing a mini “illumination of conscience,” muddied by some false accusations likely caused by real trauma and mental illness. There are no winners. If justice is served in one person’s life, it is destroyed in another’s. While one soul is finally treated in the manner his or her victimization deserves, another good and holy priest’s or religious’ life of loving service is laid waste. The enemy roars with laughter as the flocks are scattered.
It’s a Holiness Problem!
What we in the Church, and indeed in the world at large are experiencing is a holiness problem. I am not speaking of a single lapse into sin, or even an ongoing struggle. I’m speaking about those sins that we have “made peace with,” that we have decided not to struggle against. This is a lack of holiness. Likely when we get to heaven, we will meet people who struggled mightily against sin all of their days, never entirely conquering their defects, but persevering in the effort, making frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation along the way. I think of how Mother Angelica often spoke of her anger. She strove against it with holy perseverance, if not always success.
But the truth of the matter is that our Church crisis is not just a pederasty problem. It’s not just a clericalism problem. The great overarching truth is that our Church crisis is a holiness problem! Whatever sin a priest, religious or any of us gives in to, it’s a failure to deeply and resolutely pursue holiness.
How do we pursue holiness? First, we must understand what holiness is. Simply put, holiness is gradually becoming more and more like He who is all Holy. We are called to become like Him who we love, to become like Jesus. Knowing what and who holiness is, we must use the means we have to become more and more like Him.
The primary means are Prayer and the Eucharist. Prayer is simply spending real, fully-present time with Jesus. The Eucharist is receiving Jesus bodily. By spending time with our Beloved we become more like Him, understand His mind, His will. By receiving Him, we are transformed into His image, cell by cell and day by day.
Are you tired of what is happening in our Church? Are you afraid to look at the daily news to see what latest crisis has hit, what evil has been exposed? Are you frustrated that nothing is changing? GET HOLY! We aren’t called to oust our shepherd. We aren’t called to leave our Mother. We aren’t called to turn our backs on Jesus’ Church just when she needs us most. We are called to become who we were created to be: walking flames of holy love! Every ripple of holiness has infinite effect. While committees and petitions sit in the trash can of history, holiness lasts forever.
The devil has done a good job making holiness sound like a fake thing, a bad thing, a thing that makes others feel less than. But, as anyone who has encountered true holiness knows, that is just not true. Holiness is love walked out in real life. Holiness calls us up out of the pit of self to live for others by being our truest selves. And how do we get there? Prayer and the Eucharist. Spending time with He who is all Holy, receiving Him who is all Holy.
Pray and Go to Daily Mass
Secondary practices flow to and from the primary means of Prayer and the Eucharist. The rosary and Blessed Mother, the Saints and holy reading, the duty of the moment and presence to that moment: all these and more aid in our pursuit of holiness. But Prayer and the Eucharist are the primary means. If you don’t pray at all, try 10 minutes per day. If you pray an hour a day, add an Adoration hour to your week. Whatever you are doing, pray more! Start where you are and lean in on Jesus through prayer. Read the daily Gospel and ask Jesus to speak to your heart about it. If you’ve never been to daily Mass, go on your lunch hour once this week. Going on vacation? Add a few daily Masses to your itinerary. Linger after Mass and allow the Eucharist to really nourish you. Just tell God you want to be holy for Him and you need His help. He will guide you.
Aside from personal holiness, any other topical or even deep change in our Church and world will only be temporary, will crash in upon itself eventually. Holiness is the only lasting change we can make. Yes, out of our holiness comes action. Yes, reform is needed. Yes, the world has a billion urgent needs. But the only action that means anything comes from God through Prayer and the Eucharist. Look at any of the great works of the Church and you will see at its foundation a saint or group of saints who took holiness seriously, who took it as their life’s real work. St. Teresa of Calcutta was the first to say that she was no social worker. She was working out her own holiness, her own becoming the image of Christ, in the way God directed her and nothing else.
In the time of the Protestant Reformation great saints arose, not by leaving or rebelling, but by becoming living flames of love, on fire to do the will of the Father in their lives. And how did St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas More, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis de Sales, St. Robert Bellarmine and many others discern the Father’s will? By Prayer and the Eucharist. By denying themselves, picking up their cross and following Jesus. By Getting Holy! These canonized saints, and a host of hidden ones, created infinite ripples of holiness in a time of deep Church and world crisis, not by leaving and rebelling against authority, but by staying and affecting the world right where they best could, in the duty of the moment according to their state in life. And what is the overarching duty of every soul’s every moment? To Get Holy!
Make Holy Ripples in Your Own Pond
Are you a college professor with a vibrant prayer life? Teach your colleagues about prayer, informally or formally. Are you a catechist who frequents your parish’s Adoration Chapel? Talk to your students and fellow catechists about the peace you find there. Do you have a chronic health problem that brings you to the same doctors’ offices and clinics so regularly that everyone there knows you? Share with them how prayer is the best medicine you take. Are you a busy young mother with many little children in tow? Tell the other struggling busy ones how much peace you get from daily Mass, even if you spent the homily picking up Cheerios in the crying room.
It doesn’t matter who or where you are. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. Your call is to get holy in those circumstances. By means of Prayer and the Eucharist, and whatever “holy helps” fit your own life and spirituality, you can and will become holy if you persevere in trying. Put your hand in Mary’s, our model of holiness par excellence, and she will help you along this difficult but rewarding way.
I Can’t Pray Like That
As you pray, you will find out what works well for you and what doesn’t. God made all of us differently and calls us to Himself according to our differences. There are different charisms and spiritualities throughout our great big Church. Explore!
Our various orders can be seen as special agents of prayer at this time in Church and world history. The Jesuits with their Retreat in Everyday Life, the Carmelites with their great contemplative saints and the Dominicans with their reason for existence: to contemplate and to share the fruits of contemplation, just to name a few, can offer assistance with finding your own personal prayer style.
The amount of literature available is enough to boggle the mind. One solid gold primer is The Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. Available at every library and bookstore, this classic will get you started and well on your way to prayer and your own unique path to holiness.
The choices are endless, but choose and do it. Start praying. Go to Mass more frequently. The future of the Church is in our hands. Let’s get holy!
An Appeal: Please Pray for Us Here in Buffalo
Please pray for our bishop, our priests, our victims, our falsely accused. The Sword of Damocles dangles over our priests’ heads as they have no idea whether someone will falsely (or truly) accuse them. That same sword dangles over many people’s heads as they contemplate the evil they have done. This is a gift and a grace. But innocent priests are suffering for this grace.
It is not a coincidence that, here in Buffalo, two of the priestly whistleblowers speaking out against our bishop, our shepherd, have themselves experienced abuse at the hands of a priest. Unhealed wounds, made worse by negligent handling, become fertile ground for anger that breeds rebellion. It is completely understandable and heartbreakingly sad. I pray for all victims, especially those who are being further manipulated away from God’s best plans for their healings and for their lives. The enemy is continuing to steal from these brothers and sisters, by luring them with the false peace of worldly justice.
We have a group here called the Movement to Restore Trust. Originally, this group seemed to be supporting the bishop’s efforts to work through the crisis. But the MRT has now joined the small but vocal chorus asking for our bishop to step down or be removed. These fine, professional people are looking at the Church through a worldly lens. They want to “restore trust” in an organization that is seen as a bulwark of charity, education and other goods which society still values. What is missing is the supernatural view of the Church as the Bride of Christ, as the Barque of Peter. The wind of the Holy Spirit is replaced with liability and cost/benefit analysis.
Restoration belongs to God. Ours is to remain close to Him in prayer, to do His will in our own lives according to our vocation and duties, and to trust Him with the rest. Authentic reform comes when we trust God to reform the Church as we each reform ourselves. Does this mean we do not speak out against evil? Of course not. It does mean that we do it with patience, persistence and obedience to the authorities in the Church entrusted with the duties they may or may not be living up to. It does mean we do it while praying for the holiness and reformation of all of the individuals involved.
With upcoming synods in Germany and the Amazon the word schism is being tossed around rather lightly. Do we really understand how this wounds our Lord’s heart? Are we such poor students of history that we cannot see how horrible this would be? When a family, a parish, a diocese, a country or the Church are torn apart, the enemy wins. Jesus prayed for our unity and so must we.
Can we realistically expect to affect the outcomes of the synods in Germany or the Amazon through any actions of our own? No. But we can and should expect to affect those outcomes through the only real means we have at our disposal – holiness! St. Francis of Assisi said, “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” When the Lord told him to rebuild His Church in ruins, he set him on a path of holiness, calling others along that path with him. This call is more relevant today than it has ever been.
St John Vianney shows us that the only true reform in our Church is going to come through learning how to pray. As Fr. Francis Fernandez explains in volume four of In Conversation with God:
The holy Curé d’Ars used to say that all the evils that oppress us on earth come precisely from not praying, or from not praying well. Let us formulate the resolution of turning to God with love and trust through our mental prayer, through our vocal prayers, and through those brief formulae or aspirations that come so readily to mind, and let us have the joy of living our life close to God the Father, the only place where it is worth our while to live.
Preach it, St. Paul!
I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:16-23)
This small excerpt from St. Paul sums it up. We have a choice set before us. Choose holiness! Be led by the Spirit, by means of Prayer and the Eucharist, and gradually, day by day, with perseverance, we will become holy. Our holiness ripples will spread. The Church and the world will be reformed. There is no other meaningful, lasting way than this Way which our Lord has given us.
Lord Jesus, we need you. We have strayed far from your narrow path of holiness. Please help us to discern the way best suited to our temperament to pray and grow closer to you. Help us to pray fervently and daily. Help us to get to Mass more frequently and receive you more reverently and fully. Help us to become like you: holy. And then through us, restore our families, our parishes, our country, our Church and our world. Blessed Mother Mary and all you Saints and Angels, pray for us!