In the wake of the sex abuse crisis, how can I explain why I’m still Catholic?
Q. DEAR FR. JOE: With all the scandals, my friends ask me how I can stay Catholic? How do I defend the faith in this terrible time?
A. It is a very, very difficult time to be Catholic in many ways. I am sorry that God‘s people are bearing so much of the burden right now. The fact is, in many ways the Church has failed in its mission to be holy and righteous; to listen to the voice of Jesus and follow it above all others.
This is the burden we carry right now.
As a priest, I understand the struggle, I really do. In many ways, it is a very painful time to be a priest; trust has been lost and I don’t know that we can get it back in my lifetime. What do we do with all of this?
Despite the dark tone of my column, I wish to be clear that I have hope. I believe that God is going to use this time to do something that has needed doing for a long, long time: purify our Church.
For too long, we have tolerated unholy behavior in our clergy. As a priest, I have experience with the wickedness that clergy are capable of and I am seeing in my day things I never thought I would: evil exposed and evil dealt with. This is extraordinary and a cause for rejoicing.
Beyond that, I want to share with you some of the things I have learned in this process; ways God has challenged me to stand strong with his ailing and broken bride.
It all starts with a simple question that I wrote about a couple articles ago. Over and over I have felt the Lord asking me the question, “Do you believe what the Church teaches?”
In times when our leaders have completely disillusioned us, this, it seems to me, is the only question that really matters: is the Catholic faith true? If so, then the failings of the Church are viewed in a different context.
I am not Catholic because of bishops or priests. I am Catholic because it is true.
In my heart of hearts, I believe what the Church teaches. In my heart of hearts, I know that Jesus Christ is the son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. I believe that Jesus walked among us, fully God and fully man, and that he created from the community of the disciples the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. I believe that he sent the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen that Church and I believe that I am a member of this body of Christ. I believe that he gives himself to me in the form of bread and wine and that this gift offers me radical transformation every day.
As a Catholic, I believe it is my calling to know, love and serve God in this life so that I can be happy with him in the next and I believe these things with all my heart.
If I believe these things, then the failings of the leadership, the abominable sins and crimes of my brother priests, the infighting and posturing – all of it simply must come from hell, from the evil one himself.
I will, by the grace of God, hold to what is true.
So, what do we do? How do we deal with such a beautiful reality being so utterly corrupted? I believe that the answer is for you and me to transform the Church in Jesus' name. Not by raging on blogs, not by trying to fix “those people” or changing “them,” but by a radical commitment to personal holiness. By committing ourselves to nothing less than absolute purity, we will fight and slay this dragon. By worshiping God and answering his call to holiness, to care for the broken and the downtrodden, to be his voice and presence in the world, we can be the answer God gives.
All this begins and ends with prayer. I know I say this all the time, but I can’t say it enough. The Church is filled with too many people working without praying, generating their efforts out of anger instead of love. You simply cannot be a saint if you do not pray. We. Must. Pray.
It seems to me that this prayer needs in part to take a particular sacramental form: I would suggest that we visit the sacrament of reconciliation a minimum of once a month. We must be relentless and untiring in our efforts to shine the light of God‘s love and mercy on the dark sins that hide in our hearts.
I am a very big believer in the next step as well: as a Church, we need to re-focus our efforts on caring for the poor. I think it would shock most people how much our Church does for the poor. Call around to the parish near you and ask what opportunities it supports to assist the poor and I can almost guarantee you will be amazed. Find out how to help and be sure and volunteer and help in those efforts.
I also ask us to embrace mercy. I speak this from more than a few personal experiences of being failed by Church leadership: we must be merciful. There are very few people we will encounter in our lives who aren’t trying on some level to do the right thing. Sometimes, evil flourishes because good men and/or women make mistakes in judgement or make a quick decision based on bad information. It happens. Not everyone who fails is evil and, if you need proof of that, I recommend a good look in the mirror.
Every day, as a priest, I am aware that my sin injures people. I know that I have failed and I will probably continue to fail more than I don’t. God’s people have shown and (I hope!) will continue to show great mercy for this broken vessel. I am filled with gratitude for that. One of the best ways that I can show gratitude for that kind of mercy is to offer it to others as well.
As Catholics, we are Christ’s bride and, because of that, we are also his body. He will not abandon us, he will not betray us, he will not fail us. We, by his grace, will stand close to him and stand up to the evil that has infected us for too long.
Lest we forget the blessed words of St. Paul: “Love bears all things. Love believes all things. Love endures all things. Love never ends.”
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.