As we begin a New Year with the Church embroiled in ever deepening scandal, we all must ask ourselves: What can I do in response? What can I do in the face of so much evil, incompetence, injustice, and lack of charity?
The solutions are difficult and will take decades — if not centuries — to take hold so that renewal can take place. The saints God will raise up in response to the rot within the Church will come forward, but in His time. What are we to do now, in this age, in response to the seemingly endless array of scandals?
The answer is given to us by Our Lord Himself when He tells us that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).” This does, first and foremost, mean martyrdom or truly dying for those we love as Our Lord did. But for most of us, it means dying to self daily in our relationships with the people God puts in our path. The answer is fleshed out throughout Sacred Scripture and expounded upon by St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John.
We now live as brothers and sisters in Christ bound together in Baptism strengthened through the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The greatest of these being charity. This means that we are called to live in authentic, deep, abiding charity in communion with one another. We are brothers and sisters in Christ whose love is meant to be so great in Him that we are willing to die for one another bodily or through sacrificing for one another in our daily lives.
The non-negotiable call to live in communion
Living in communion with one another is difficult. Loving one another — even our closest relatives and our spouses — is challenging for us in our Fallen state, but this is the call Our Lord gives to us. It is non-negotiable. The problem is, we are living as if it is negotiable or merely a suggestion. Do we truly see the people sitting next to us in the pews as brothers and sisters? Or if we do, have we allowed the dysfunction and pain from our other relationships within our own broken families lead the way in our relationships with people within the Mystical Body? Do we take too earthly of a view of one another? The answer is a resounding yes.
Whenever I discuss communion and charity with my brothers and sisters within the Church — laity or clergy — I tend to get the same type of responses. “That’s too difficult. Yes, that’s how it’s supposed to be, but that isn’t reality.” In other words, it’s too hard to work towards authentic love and communion with one another so we are settling for mediocrity, or worse, dysfunction within our own communities.
That is a major part of the reason we are in the position we are in today with the scandals. Everything looked good on the outside while great evil was being ignored or even enabled within the ranks of the priesthood. Veneers often are in place to hide the evil within because it is too difficult to confront. Most frequently they are in place to cover up comfort, apathy, complacency, or fear of change.
Love isn’t easy and communion with one another is the hardest call we have in our Fallen state, but it is communion that helps us to learn how to die even more to self. While our families are our first training ground in love, it is also love for our brothers and sisters in Christ that helps prepare us for heaven where we will dwell together in communion with the Most Holy Trinity for all eternity. We will not die and go to heaven where we get to live on our private island with our chosen family members and friends. No, we will dwell together, Lord willing, even with the people who have betrayed us, hurt us, and rejected us.
It is challenging in this age of scandal to see Christ in one another. It is hard to draw closer together when there is so much pain in our midst. Thanks to the Fall, many of us have a tendency to withdraw or scatter when situations arise that are extremely difficult to endure. It’s why all of the Apostles except for St. John abandoned Christ when His hour had come. By grace, however, we are meant to be like Our Lady and St. John enduring the horror of the Cross as Our Lord breathed His last and gave up His spirit to the Father for us. We are living the Cross in our own day through these scandals. We must resist the urge to scatter.
The way of love
What is it that kept Our Heavenly Mother and St. John firmly at the foot of the Cross? Love.
It is love that gives us the strength to endure the deepest pain. It is love that gives us the ‘peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7).’ It is love that makes the battles we must wage together worth fighting. Love reveals the good, the true, and the beautiful to us so that we can dwell in faith and hope. It is love that helps us to forgive when we don’t think we are able to forgive or persevere in our relationships with one another even after deep pain has been inflicted. St. Peter tells us to “let our love be unfailing for one another (1 Peter 4:8).” These are words for our times.
We can no longer limp along in our communities as we have for decades. People are leaving the fold. Christmas Masses saw noticeable drops in attendance throughout the U.S. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are hurting and confused. Even those who are strong in faith, find themselves faltering under the weight of so much corruption and evil. The status quo is not going to help us weather this storm. We must turn towards one another in authentic communion grounded in the love of Christ and one another.
Nobody said this is easy, but then again, the Christian life is not easy. G. K. Chesterton said it best when he said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Living in communion with one another as brothers and sisters is not some lofty ideal. It is a call we have been given from Our Lord Himself. He has called us to truly enter into love of one another. Not sentimentality. Not distanced, polite encounters that require little of us. Love. To enter into one another’s joys and sorrows. To come to see one another as we are and to see Christ dwelling within each one of us.
Love requires forgiveness
It will require sacrifice from all of us. We may be asked to wage battles — spiritual or physical — for one another. It will mean pain. Why? Love always costs us something. It requires us being open and vulnerable to being hurt by other Fallen people. There will be times we will have disagreements and fights, but if we dwell in the love of Christ and love for one another then we will be able to work through those difficulties. It will above all else require our willingness to forgive again and again.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t carry those hurts from one another. We will and we do. It means that in order to move forward someone has to choose to forgive. Someone has to move forward in love. As Christians, we are the ones who are called to forgive. Loving others means forgiving.
As painful as it is for all of us, we are going to have to forgive our leaders. We don’t want to. The horrors that have been revealed are diabolical, heinous, and disturbing. It is hard to fathom how priests could commit such horrifying crimes. It is difficult to understand how men who gave themselves to Christ in the priesthood could allow such horrific things to happen to children and adults and cover it up. It is maddening how many of our leaders continue to respond, but we are going to have to forgive. We all know that this is far from over. There will be more terrible revelations in the future.
How does Christ return after the Crucifixion? His Apostles except for St. John have abandoned him, St. Peter — our first pope — has denied Him, and they are locked in fear in the Upper Room. Christ stands in their midst after the resurrection and says Shalom (peace) and then gives them the power to forgive sins in His name.
The very men who betrayed and abandoned Him are given the power to forgive sins through the Sacrament of Penance. That is the unconditional, forgiving, self-emptying love of God. Rather than dwell on their betrayal, He forgives and then gives them a mission. He forgives us all even though He came in love and we murdered Him. This is our example. Christ calls us to be like Him and that means giving our own Shalom when our brothers and sisters in Christ hurt us, especially in the clergy where we rightly expect them to be better.
The days of hero-worshipping the priesthood are over. They were over back in 2002, but there are still remnants of it today. They are men who are called to be alter Christus, but they are not Christ Himself except when they act in persona Christi. This means that they are still open to the temptations, sinful inclinations, personality flaws, and bad habits that those in the laity battle, which is why they need our prayers and sacrifices. It is why the false divisions between the laity and the priesthood must come to an end and we must draw closer to one another.
If the laity abandons the priesthood and ignores the calls of their sacred office then we put our souls at risk and allow the Enemy to sow the seeds of division he is sowing right now in our midst. If the priesthood retreats and entrenches away from the laity out of fear in response to the revelations and investigations going on, then those who choose to do so will continue to fail to live up to their role as spiritual fathers and shepherds to God’s people. Fear destroys charity and it is perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Both the laity and the priesthood must resist the great urge to flee this Cross and stand fast together in charity. We cannot allow fear to win.
“As I have loved you, so also should you love one another (John 13:9),” Our Lord tells us. He isn’t saying that priests should only love priests or that laity should only love laity. He says this to all of us as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to love even though we all have good and bad within each one of us. We are to love even though our vocations lead us to heaven in different ways. We are meant to help one another on the path to holiness. When a brother or sister stumbles we are to be there to help pick them up while together we fix our eyes on Christ. We are simply to love.
We can and must demand reform, but in the end, we must commit to living the call of the Gospel. We are to love one another and dwell in communion with one another in the unfailing love of the Most Holy Trinity. We have to forgive as Christ forgives. No, we cannot do it alone, but Christ is with us always. He shows us the way of communion and love. He will show us the way forward together if we put our trust in Him.
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