The last couple months have certainly been eventful… For me, they were full of immense highs and overwhelming lows. My daughter was born at the end of July, so come August I was spending all my time lounging with a newborn, visiting with out-of-town family members, and adjusting to the change that a baby brings to any household. Two weeks into this time of exhausted euphoria, the PA Grand Jury report on clergy sexual abuse was released and the joy Chris and I had been drinking in was immediately shoved from the prominent place in our minds. We were heart-broken. Sick in the heart and stomach. Grieving…The desire to hate has never been so sharp in all my life.
There is nothing I can say about the scandal that hasn’t already been said: it was vile –period. It was more than “falling” into sin. It was deliberate and disgusting. I certainly wouldn’t want to be those men when they stand before God for their final judgement…and I confess that I find comfort in that thought (and hope that my feelings stem from the virtue of justice and not vitriol and enmity).
The Good, Good Father
As an introvert, my initial reactions were all internal. I turned to prayer — but I had no words. In those moments, I never said anything… I couldn’t say anything… all I could do was grieve alongside the heart of God. Daily, I turned to the Liturgy (both liturgy of the hours and the Mass readings), and found comfort in the appropriateness of the readings and prayers. It was if God was saying, “I’ve known… I’ve known all along…I brought it to light now for a reason… there will be justice.”
Saints vs. Corruption
I’ve also found reassurance in my daily tasks. In pieces that I had been scheduled to research, write, and edit, I’ve been repeatedly reminded of different times of corruption within the Church. As a Body, the Church did not die; the gates of hell did not prevail. Reform happened, but not quickly, not easily, and not without the constant work of the saints.
St. Francis of Assisi
The son of a wealthy merchant whose injury during a crusade eventually led to his conversion, Francis gave everything up, dressed in rags and essentially lived as a hermit. While praying in a run-down chapel in the woods, the corpus of Christ on the cross “came alive” and spoke to him.
‘Francis, go and repair my house which,
as you see,
is falling into ruin.‘
Francis immediately got to work rebuilding that very chapel, while continuing to live his simple way of life. Surprisingly (to Francis), it wasn’t long before others became attracted to his manner of living and joined him. They became so numerous, a Rule (a written, unified, way of life that had to be approved by the pope) was needed.
At the same time in Church history, Pope Innocent III had a reoccurring dream that the great church of St. John Lateran (the primary basilica of the pope) was collapsing. It was saved in the nick of time by a small man dressed in ordinary peasants’ garb. He caught the weight of the falling church, held it up with his shoulder, and then, straining, straightened it back again.
Thus, when Francis went before Pope Innocent, his Rule of Life was approved and the Franciscan Order was founded (though it wasn’t known by that name yet). The pontiff recognized that it was this man and his followers — by way of life, prayer, and inspiring others — who were going to save the universal Church (represented by St. John Lateran in the dream)– and they did. Recognizing that Jesus’ way of life needed recapturing, they based their order on Jesus’ own priorities. This manner of living ended up establishing a Christian movement that was a huge contrast to the focus of power and image that was running rampant within the Church at that time.
This strikes me in two ways:
- In the pope’s dream, the Church was saved by a small, ordinary person.
- Francis acted immediately. In time, he came to understand that Jesus had actually wanted him to help restore the Faith, not the chapel in the woods. However, by taking action, he was able to be directed to God’s ultimate intention as time went on.
So in regards to the corruption of the clergy and the sexual abuse which is going on today… it could be one, small, ordinary person who turns the tide. It could be me. Or you. But we have to act– even if it’s in small ways. God will guide us as he guided St. Francis.
St. Catherine of Siena
A lowly member of the laity (a 3rd order Dominican), Catherine worked tirelessly to help the Church during the Great Schism when multiple popes had been elected because of corruption of individual bishops. Her two greatest weapons were her pen (although she couldn’t actually write herself… she never learned how.) and her prayers. With the help of scribes, God used Catherine to bring the pope back to Rome from Avignon, France, where the entire clergy was living a lavish, royalistic lifestyle.
Her letters are bold. The following excerpt is an example:
“Be a manly man… wanting to live in peace is often the greatest cruelty. When the boil has come to a head it must be cut with the lance and burned with fire…
…if that is not done, and only a plaster is put on it the corruption will spread and that is often worse than death.
I wish to see you as a manly man so that you may serve the Bride of Christ without fear, and work spiritually and temporally for the glory of God according to the needs of that sweet Bride in our times.”
From St. Catherine, I hold on to three points:
- A lay woman should not be afraid to speak boldly in demanding things from the bishops (including the Bishop of Rome).
- It doesn’t matter what my weakness is… St. Catherine literally couldn’t write and yet she found a way to send letters to the pope (swapping for grace, no?)
- That a love for Christ demands a love for the Church he founded, even and especially when the members who make up that earthly body are weak and unworthy of our love (thanks Bishop Barron).
So in regards to the state of the affairs today, be loving, be bold, .and don’t let your weaknesses hinder you. Swap for grace!
A Call to Battle
In the Book of Esther, her cousin Mordecai encourages Queen Esther to go before the king to plead for her people — even though doing so could mean death. He tells her,
“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” -Esther 4:14
The same is true for us. God is going to deliver the Church regardless… but we have to take part in the difficulty of “delivering” if we want to partake in the relief of our “deliverance.” One might even say we have to “die” in order to “rise”… and as Mordecai says to Esther, maybe we were born now for this very reason!
So how do we do this? I don’t know exactly… but I do know that each of us as individuals has to be timely in following the personal promptings of the Holy Spirit. We have to be bold. We have to be humble. We have to be loving. We have to act. Start with what He tells you. Then, whatever it is (prayer,novenas, fasting, letter-writing), be intentionally fierce in accomplishing it. God will direct you from there.