Stay and pray

Words are totally insufficient to deal with the crisis the Church faces at this moment, the crisis which its leaders foisted upon it. And yet, in an editorial, we need to work with words to discuss the disgusting.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, a lay Catholic writing in National Review Online, wrote Monday in response to Pope Francis’ letter (which you can read on page 19 of this edition of The Anchor), “And learning of the evil that has happened and seeing slow action, people are feeling orphaned. ‘My Lord and My God!’ an elderly man exclaimed with all his might yesterday at the Sunday Mass I went to in New York. You could hear the struggle in his voice and also a certainty. Why would you ever go to Church in the first place, especially with all the evil that has been seen and will continue to be? His exclamation/proclamation/continuing act of faith would be the reason. Where Eucharistic faith is real and ever-growing, good will be done, for grace will be resplendent. Or so we have said we believe. As many have and will comment, words are necessary but they are insufficient.”

On page eight, Rose Mary Saraiva asks, “Will you stay?” She wrote her meditation on this coming Sunday’s Gospel before all of the horror of the atrocities in the Church came to light; she was echoing Christ’s question to the Apostles (Jn 6:67), “Do you also want to leave?” A lot of Jesus’ followers had departed because they could not accept His teaching about the Bread of Life. Today people are leaving because they have a hard time believing that the Bread of Life could come through the ministrations of the clergy, so disgraced due to depravity and infidelity to the promises made at ordination.

In his letter, the pope applied Mary’s Magnificat prayer to this crisis. “Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For the Lord remembers the promise He made to our fathers: ‘He has scattered the proud in their conceit; He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty’ (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.” In other words, the pope was saying that in the Magnificat, Mary is denouncing clerics for their sinfulness.

Lopez, in her above mentioned blog, reminds us that we remain in the Church not because of the clergy, however disappointing we are, but because of Christ in the Eucharist. However, this is extremely difficult for the victims. Lopez added, “I can’t get out of my mind one of the people who was abused by a priest as a child in Pennsylvania talking about how the very word God can be unbearable for her. What we need most was made into torture for her. Someone suggested for every minute spent reading about scandal in the Church, give equal time to prayer. Would it be crazy to do a work of mercy, too? Reach out to someone in love. ‘Blazing charity,’ like St. Catherine of Siena would put it.”

As has been noted here before, the Church is not just the clergy. All baptized Catholics are the Church, even though they are not always treated with the dignity that they deserve. You can read throughout this edition of The Anchor about how the Church (through its laity, its religious and even its clergy) is engaged in prayer, in works of mercy, in spreading the Gospel, in showing love for God and neighbor. 

“There is only one Father in the family, and whatever rank we have is not what makes us a member of the body of Christ,” Msgr. John Esseff, former spiritual director of St. Teresa of Calucutta told the National Catholic Register this week. “Scandals show us that rank does not mean holiness. Holiness happens only when we are personally committed to Christ, and that is open to everyone equally. When we were baptized, the Holy Spirit united us to the Second Person of the Trinity, so that every baptized Christian is Christ and has a personal relationship with God the Father Who loves the Son with an infinite love. The love the Father has for me, a priest, is the same that He has for every person. And it will take the Father all of eternity to tell me of His love for me. It will always be new for 10,000 years, 100,000 years and forever.”

Professor Massimo Faggioli of Villanova University in Pennsylvania tweeted, “What Napoleon and Stalin couldn’t do, the hierarchy of the Church itself did.”

The Church will survive not because of the clergy, but because of Christ — Christ Who works through all of the members of the Church, when they are open to Him. St. John Chrysostom, in the Breviary’s reading for today’s feast of St. Bartholomew, points out how Christ chose “fearful, timid men” to lead the Church, as a “proof of the truth,” that it is really God Who keeps the Church alive, not the hierarchy. This does not mean that God approves of their sinfulness — of course not. However, He is always ready to forgive them when they sincerely repent, as St. Peter did.

Patti Armstrong, who interviewed Msgr. Esseff above, asked, “While we were defending and praying for the Church to rise above old sex scandals, it seems that leaders within the Church kept them going. So now, how do we muster the desire to stay the course?” 

We muster that desire with prayer and penance, as Pope Francis asked of us in his letter this Monday. Our prayer and our penance will unite us more to Christ. Our prayer and penance will help us to see that Christ is not abandoning us in the midst of all of this filth. Our prayer and penance will guide us in confronting these situations and their perpetrators, not with a sense of vengeance, but with Christ’s approach of purifying the Temple. He did not make the whip of cords out of hatred for those who made the Temple a marketplace (those people in the Gospel were still probably objectively holier than the clerics about whom we have been reading of late), but because He both wanted to save their souls and save our souls (the Temples which He would create through Baptism). 

May our prayer and penance help in the Salvation of all souls.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts