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The Church is in the midst of multiple crises. The sex abuse scandal reemerging, around the globe, has shown that while great progress has been made, there is much work to do and much justice left unpursued. There are countless victims of abuse who have not felt comfortable coming forward before now and many who have still not come forward. This is a tragedy. Our brothers and sisters are in pain and need healing; they need our support and love.
To add insult to injury, hundreds of religious, priests, bishops, and cardinals have brutally injured the Body of Christ. Truly, there are many good and holy bishops, priests, cardinals, and religious. But, there are also unfortunately many who are aloof from the Body of Christ and have given in to the desire to chase the finite rather than the infinite: power, wealth, fame, sex. The good, holy clerics who have kept their eyes fixed on Christ are suffering greatly because of the actions of their brothers.
There is also a deep ideological split in the Church, on matters of grave importance, especially in the arena of human sexuality. The Church is in a doctrinal crisis where the perennial teachings of Christ are being compromised by those entrusted to preserve them. The Church is truly in a difficult and painful situation.
WHAT TO DO WHEN SCANDAL STRIKES
So, what then is there for the laity to do when scandal strikes? My Catholic-Link colleague, Patrick Hauf, wrote a brilliant article entitled “To Prevent Future Scandal in the Catholic Church, Catholics Must Promote Church Teachings.” If you have not read that, I highly recommend it. As he says, “We should never be ashamed of our beliefs.” It is only through clinging to Christ and His teachings that we will persevere.
BE THERE FOR THE VICTIMS OF ABUSE
I would like to humbly offer a few more suggestions building the great framework that has been laid down already.
First and foremost, we must make ourselves available to the victims of abuse. We must show them the unconditional love of Christ and our Blessed Mother. We must apologize to them on behalf of the human members of the Church who have failed them so terribly. And we must be willing to listen without judgment to their story.
DON’T WAIT FOR LEADERSHIP
Accepting Christ’s teachings wholeheartedly, the laity must be willing to step up in leadership. St. Teresa of Calcutta put this well when she said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” The little actions of love that we do, united with Christ and led by Him, are our path to holiness. By striving to personally be a saint, we are answering the universal call to holiness. This is the first task of the day.
God is more concerned with our own salvation than He is in using us for the salvation of others. We have to know that and believe it. And then, we will be effective instruments of God’s love to the world. This means that we must be in a rhythm of prayer and in tune with the will of God. We must be seeking the Lord in all things. Then, and only then, can we effectively and charitably lead our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ closer to Him.
MASS AND ADORATION
The first step in being a leader is understanding Who we follow. Before we are leaders, we are followers of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must be totally devoted to Him and offer Him the worship of a contrite spirit. Going to Mass is not optional; it is absolutely necessary. Mass is the perfect prayer of Christ and by our full, conscious, and active participation, we are made more like Christ. It is essential that we center our entire lives around Sunday Mass.
If you are able, try going to daily Mass at least once a week, or even every day if you are able. Find a church near you that offers Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Adoration and spend time before our Lord. If there are no churches that expose the Blessed Sacrament, remember His presence in every tabernacle in the world.
Prayer is our most powerful weapon. Without it, we have no hope.
AN AGE OF PURIFICATION
In the current scandals in the Church, there is another thing to keep in mind. As painful as the current age of the Church is, there is a great work of the Holy Spirit happening. The Church is being purified from within, albeit painfully. This is our lot that we have been given. God has given us this time, and it is our responsibility to grasp it. This is the age of purification, of reparation, of greater holiness, and of a sharper focus on Jesus Christ our Lord.
Stepping up and being leaders means that we speak the Truth in Love, no matter the personal cost. Our Lord gave us the perfect image of self-sacrificial love on the Cross and He is beckoning us to take up our own cross, unite it to His, and follow Him. Being a Catholic is not popular in today’s world. It is difficult and there is a real, genuine shame associated with our Mother, the Church. What effects one Member of the Body, affects all.
We hopefully had nothing to do with the abuse that happened. And we hopefully had nothing to do with the equal crime and sin of covering up abuse. And yet, I believe that Christ is calling us in love to shoulder the responsibility. Just as He took upon His back the sins of man as He went to the Cross, we are called to bear the guilt and sin of our brothers and sisters in Christ who did unspeakable evil. In our world that is so individualistic and self-centered, we have to rediscover the notion of collective responsibility and atoning for the sins of others.
PRAY FOR THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH THAT ARE WITHIN THE CHURCH
We must pray for the enemies of the Church that are within the Church. There is no disputing that Satan has infiltrated the Church. The demonic acts of abuse are a symptom of this reality. The only way that he will be driven out is by ardent prayer. We must pray for those within the Church that are being swayed by the machinations of the Evil One. We must offer atonement to God for their evil deeds. We must bring our petitions before our Lord and His mercy and ask for the grace to root out any sin in our own lives.
PENANCE: PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
One of the most powerful things that I have witnessed since the scandals broke was the actions of my own Pastor. This good and holy priest set aside a Day of Reparation on the feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta asking the parish to join him at Mass, at Adoration throughout the day, and at a Holy Hour of Reparation in the evening. He has also committed to continuing this Wednesday evening holy hour indefinitely. Ours is an age of reparation because every sin is an injustice and we need to make restitution. Public acts of penance like this are needed.
Private acts of penance are needed now as well. Every Friday is a day of penance according to Canon Law, but perhaps we can add more than just Friday. Give up meat every Friday during the year, even outside of Lent. Fast from your favorite food or drink. Add an extra devotion or discipline in your prayer life. There are so many ways that we can offer powerful prayers of penance to seek reparation for sins, personal or collective.
OFFER CARE OF YOUR PRIESTS
Our priests are in the breach, fighting the battle of a lifetime. Every time they go outside with the collar on, they are the target of discrimination, fear, and hate because of the actions of a few. They are also our channel to the Sacraments. Without our priests, we cannot be sanctified. And without the sanctification our priests offer us in the Sacraments, we cannot do the work of sanctifying the world. Cook for your priests, offer prayers for them, send them letters of encouragement, tell them they are doing a great job, let them know they are needed… there are so many ways to offer care and encouragement to our priests.
If someone has wronged you, Christ calls you to forgive that person. This is one of the hardest parts of being a Christian sometimes. But if there are people in your life who you are having difficulty forgiving, ask Jesus to give you the grace to do so.
I know very little about what the future will hold. What I do know is that Jesus will never leave us abandoned. And no matter how bleak things may seem, the Church is His. Pope St. John XXIII was said to have prayed this prayer before bedtime while he was Pope: “I’ve done my best I could in your service this day, Oh Lord. I’m going to bed. It’s your church. Take care of it!”
All we can offer God is our best. The best we can offer is a willing and contrite heart. It is His Church. The same Holy Spirit that dwells in each of the baptized as in a Temple is guiding the Church unceasingly. We have to remember that everything that happens is either directly willed by God or permissively allowed by Him.
The most practical piece of advice that I can give is this. No matter what you are doing on a given day, ask this question: “What does this have to do with Jesus?” If the answer is nothing, then stop that conversation or action. Now, is the time for true, lived Catholicism. We cannot afford to be lukewarm. By example, we must be leaders.