Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once stated that the Church goes through a crisis about every 500 years. Presently the Church is traversing an exceedingly painful period. Scandals seem to be rocking the Church to its very foundation. Indeed, many, especially the vulnerable, are exiting the Church in considerable numbers. Nobody can deny the fact that Holy Mother Church suffers deep, gaping wounds that will not be healed overnight.
The challenge is before us. We can jump ship or we can strive to mend the holes in the ship. We can throw in the towel and call it quits or we can fight the good fight until the end. Each and every one of us must make the choice.
I hope and pray that our choice will be the choice of Joshua and his entire family with these decisive words: “As for me and my family: we will follow the Lord!” (Josh 24: 15) May it be your choice in words and actions: “As for me and my family, we will stay in the Church and strive with every fiber of our being to transform the Church! And this transformation will commence with my own personal spiritual and moral life!”
In imitation of Joshua and his family and all the courageous saints of the past, we would like to offer ten short, clear, and practical helps to regroup, rebuild, restore, and start anew with this thought: “The worst of times can indeed be the best of times.” And may each of us decide this will start with me and my own personal life and commitment! Let us dig deep within our own hearts and strive for a radical conversion of life through the infinite love of the Merciful Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
1. Fervent Prayer to Mary and the Holy Spirit
The nascent Church underwent a radical transformation and conversion due to the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infusion of the Holy Spirit. Read the account of Pentecost (Acts 2). At the prospect of Jesus’ Passion, suffering, and death on the cross, all of the Apostles, with the exception of Saint John, fled, paralyzed with fear. The little group of followers that Jesus chose basically jumped ship and abandoned the pursuit Jesus had instilled in them.
However, a powerful nine day Retreat (Novena) concluded with the sound of a rushing wind and fire as the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the Apostles. Fears, doubts, confusion, insecurities—all disappeared through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the presence, prayer, penance, and perseverance of Mary, the Mother of God.
Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem; Mary would be present at the birth of the Mystical Body of Christ on Pentecost. If indeed the Church is to undergo a deep reform and a deep healing it must come about by fervent, prolonged, sacrificial prayer, and the presence of Mary.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and author of the Glories of Mary, asserted: “When a person declines and descends into lukewarmness, it is because he is lacking the presence of Mary. Mary attains fire, fervor, and deep prayer!”
2. Avoid Gossip
Saint James issues a strong warning and admonition: “Be slow to speak and quick to listen.” (Jas 1: 19) All too often it is easier to give ears to gossip, negative criticism, character assassination, as well as to spread this with our own tongue. Saint Augustine makes this interesting observation: “The more we criticize and condemn others, the less we examine our own lives.” A very strong recommendation on this topic of the loose tongue and venomous tongue: read Saint James Chapter 3—the sins of the tongue!
With respect to the problems in the Church, why not talk to God, as well as your Confessor, and offer fervent prayers for the Church.
3. Practice and Perseverance in Penance
Our Lady of Fatima stated that many souls are lost because too few people pray and too few people offer sacrifices for the conversion of poor sinners. Jesus also said: “Some devils can be cast out only by prayer and fasting (penance).” (Mt 17: 21)
All of us, young and old, man or woman, rich or poor, can choose some concrete form of penance and offer that for the conversion and healing of Holy Mother Church. As Saint Therese of Lisieux, who loved the Church intensely, pointed out: “Holiness does not depend upon the greatness of the action, but the love that accompanies it.” In other words: Do the ordinary things of daily life with extraordinary love.
4. Support and Encourage Hard–Working Priests in Their Labors
Despite the failures and scandals present in the Church, there are still many hard-working, holy, and generous priests who are working in the vineyard of the Lord almost unperceived. The Press often promotes and spreads the bad news, but ignores, conceals, and hides the manifold good actions that many priests carry out in the Lord’s vineyard day and night.
The next time you have contact with a priest in Confession or after Mass, you might say a prayer for him and give him a kind word of encouragement. That can go a long way. (I can testify to this through experience).
5. Find Models for the Church
A wounded, limping, and floundering Church is in dire need of splendid models to follow from both the past and the present. Athletes admire their heroes from the past. Writers admire literary masters. Artists look for exemplary models after whom to style their work.
Now more than ever, priests, as well as Bishops, must lift their eyes to brilliant models. These of course are the saints. Von Balthasar states that in the heavenly firmament shine stars in gleaming splendor and these are the saints.
6. A Litany of Saints
Why not compose a Litany of saintly priests and Bishops and pray fervently this Litany on a daily basis for the conversion, healing, reform and renewal of the Church? If you like, I will start the list with ten saintly Bishops followed by ten saintly priests and you can add your own.
However, we must pray fervently and insistently to them for the Church! Indeed, their prayers are very powerful to say the least. Let us first lift our minds, our hearts and souls to these saintly Bishops: Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Saint Robert Bellarmine, Saint Anthony Maria Claret, Saint Albert the Great, Saint John Neuman, Saint Frances de Sales, Saint Augustine, Saint Athanasius, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint John Fisher… now you can add your own!
Next let us lift our minds, our hearts and souls to saintly priests: Saint John Bosco, Saint Padre Pio, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Philip Neri, Saint John Vianney, Saint Louis de Montfort, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Damian of Molokai… now add your own, please.
By forming this double Litany of saintly Bishops and priests and praying it fervently every day, an outpouring and effusion of graces will descend upon the Church, and especially upon priests and Bishops. The prayers of these priestly souls and saints in heaven will never fail us!
7. A Modern Model for Priests and Bishops: Ven. Fulton Sheen
Personally, I never weary of promoting the Beatification of Ven. Fulton Sheen. Indeed, in the modern world with its modern crises, this man of God who died in 1979 was a true prophet and serves as a brilliant model for both priests and Bishops.
Upon retiring as Bishop at age 75, Sheen dedicated the last few years of his life to preaching retreats, but specifically to priests and Bishops. He always concluded with one simple idea: The Holy Hour of Power. In a word, Sheen insisted that if priests, as well as Bishops, truly yearned for a sincere conversion of heart and life then it would come through daily contact with the Eucharistic Lord Jesus, present in the Tabernacle. This meant the priests and Bishops had to make the commitment to make a Daily Holy Hour.
If done with constancy, fervor, faithfulness, and perseverance, the net result would be conversion, sanctification, and a true life of priestly holiness. Please pray for priests and Bishops, that through the intercession of Ven. Fulton Sheen, they will give the Lord Jesus that hour, the Holy Hour, the Hour of Power. If done, the priest/Bishop will be imbued with power in his ministry to gather in an abundant harvest of souls.
8. In Sinu Jesu
Recently, a simple but profound spiritual masterpiece is spreading far and wide. The title is In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart — The Journal of a Priest at Prayer. The theme is very simple. Jesus, who is the High Priest par excellence, has a burning desire to establish, cultivate, and grow in friendship with every priest and Bishop. Most especially, Jesus longs for priests/Bishops to come before Him in the Blessed Sacrament and spend time with Him. In this time, Jesus longs to speak heart to heart to the priest/Bishop.
What does Jesus desire of the priest/bishop? The following: his presence, prayer, thanksgiving, supplication, adoration, love, confidence, sincerity, transparency. In a word, Jesus’ Heart is burning with an ardent fire to cultivate a deep, dynamic friendship with every priest and Bishop in the world, until the end of time. As is displayed on the front cover, Saint John is leaning on the Heart of Jesus. This Beloved Disciple, Saint John, is the model for every priest and Bishop in the world. Priest/Bishops must get to know, converse with, trust, abandon themselves to, and befriend Jesus. Once done, the life of the priest/Bishop will undergo a radical transformation, as well as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.
Pray and meditate upon this short passage from the Book: “Listen to me, open to me the ear of your heart, and I will speak to you as I promised. I will instruct you. I will teach you. I will show you the way in which you are to go. My heart yearns for yours. I so desire your company… I have called you to experience the grace of my friendship. I want you to be for my Heart another Saint John, loving me, seeking me, listening to me, abiding in my presence…” (In Sin Jesu, page 21)
9. Mercy, Mercy, and Once Again Mercy
Priests and Bishops must be totally immersed and transformed by the mercy in the Heart of Jesus. The Lord Jesus stated on many occasions to Saint Faustina Kowalska in the Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, that the greatest attribute in the Heart of Jesus is His infinite mercy. However, for both priest and Bishop this mercy is a two-way street. First, he must experience the mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as sinner and penitent.
In a word, a priest who expresses mercy to others must first experience the merciful love of Christ as a penitent. Before saying “I absolve you of your sins”, the priest/Bishop must hear and experience those words expressed to and for him. In other words, before becoming the Father of the Prodigal Son, we first must be the son embraced by the loving Father. Nobody can give what he does not have himself!
10. Mary: The Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, and the Mother of Priests
Among the many titles for Our Lady are the following from the prayer the Hail Holy Queen: “Our life, our sweetness, and our hope…” In the midst of the struggles, trials, battles, turmoil and confusion of life, the priest/Bishop must walk very closely with Mary most Holy—our life, our sweetness, and our hope.” T
he feminine, motherly, tender presence of Mary must constantly fill, absorb, and protect both the priest and the Bishop. That lonely, hollow, and desolate void that many priests at times may experience can be filled by the presence of Mary.
Saint Therese, who prayed constantly for priests, once stated that, “Mary is Queen and Mother, but she is more Mother than she is Queen.” The priest must experience this tender, loving presence of Mary whose love is constant, pure, attentive, powerful, and most efficacious!