What kills love the fastest? We often hear the answers of indifference or hatred, but the answer is fear. There is nothing in this life that destroys love more than fear. It is fear that drives people to commit heinous atrocities, turn in hatred towards another, or become indifferent to the plight or duty owed to another. It is fear that drove the Apostles who reclined at table with Our Lord in deep communion and love on Holy Thursday to run in terror on Good Friday. Fear decimates love. That is precisely why, at its heart, the sex abuse crisis is a crisis of charity.
Many Catholics are coming to terms with the horrific revelations from this past summer, many of which come straight out of hell. They are trying to assign blame for the evil we are facing. The answers are most commonly clericalism, pedophilia, homosexuality, corruption, power, etc. These are all pieces of the puzzle, but in truth, they are only symptoms of a much deeper problem.
Our leaders, and we ourselves, have failed to love as we ought to. There is a massive failure to embrace true charity in the Church. Many of our leaders failed to give everything over to God and instead chose the world. It has been a problem for humankind since the Fall.
What happens when we turn from God and we allow the flesh, the world, or the Enemy to rule over us? We cave in on ourselves. We make ourselves into a god. We begin to think of ourselves as the center of the universe and we drag the people around us down with us. Sin is communal. It is never done in isolation. It reverberates throughout the entire Mystical Body.
Sin, at its root, is our failure to love and serve God and others. When we turn away from the Divine Love and our call to love others as human beings made imago Dei, all manner of sin will fill the void left in its place. As hard as it may seem to comprehend given the heinous nature of some of the crimes committed by priests, even the diabolical will fill that void. The Enemy is always seeking to drag souls to hell, including you and me.
The Cross is the single greatest divisive instrument in the history of the universe. It is where Divine Love destroys sin and death and it is an invitation to all of us to enter into lives of self-emptying love poured out to God and our neighbor. There is nothing in existence that causes more terror and fear than the Cross. I’ve come to see this not only as a theologian, but because I have quite literally held pieces of the True Cross of Our Lord in my hands on multiple occasions.
The first time Our Lord handed me His actual True Cross was when I was 33 years old. He asked me to temporarily guard His sacred relics of the True Cross. I also had them again recently. Both times produced the exact same results. All of us will buckle under the weight of divine charity if we do not give everything over to God.
In our brokenness we will fail to summon the courage necessary for fraternal charity if we do not look in love on God first in order to receive the freedom we need in our Fallen state to love others as we ought to. We will just as surely flee from fraternal charity when we flee from divine charity, which is what is on full display in the sex abuse scandals. The Cross looms large in the center of the sex abuse scandals, and so the Apostles flee, because their fear is too great and their charity too little. Thanks be to God He is not done with any of us!
Far too many of our leaders are buckling under the weight of charity. Why? The victims of the sex abuse scandals are the face of the crucified Christ. Their wounds cry out for justice. The victims need to see the face of the glorified Christ who binds their wounds and heals their pain. The Savior who pours out every ounce of His blood to the Father in love and who invites us to partake of His body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. Our priests are meant to be our spiritual fathers and a sign of Christ to the world. Far too often it is difficult to see Christ in them, especially when they turn their backs on the wounded. They allow the fear of the Cross to kill love and they no longer see the victims with the compassion that charity requires and they abandon the great demands of charity altogether.
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on how to approach priests about the scandals. I’ve thought about that piece some more and considered it in light of recent events in my own life. I realized that my words are true, but only in the context of relationships grounded in communion and charity with Christ. If our priests and we ourselves are not open to the demands of charity placed upon us within the Mystical Body, then our loving advice will fall on deaf ears. It is why so many of the laity are frustrated. Even the most loving of guidance is cast aside while too many of our leaders distance themselves from their flocks, set up fortresses, increase bureaucracy, or ignore the scandals all together.
I have friends and family who are struggling mightily to stay Catholic in these dark days. Their pain and confusion is also an aspect of the Cross. Betrayal and rejection by the very men who are meant to be Christ to us is a difficult aspect of the Cross to bear. It also causes many to buckle under the weight of it all and they leave. We are called to embrace the Cross, but most of us waver in our weakness to accept all that the Cross requires, which does at times include standing alone with Christ. It means enduring the betrayal by our spiritual fathers and uniting our own experiences to Our Lord’s Passion. It means staying in a Church torn open by deep self-inflicted wounds, because all that matters in this life is charity and the Divine Charity, Our Lord, has given us His Church and one another.
The solution is to pray for the fortitude and strength both priests and the laity need to go deeper into charity. We must in love offer sacrifices and prayers for our priests, even those who have betrayed their sacred oath. We all crave love, but we also run from it. It places hefty demands upon us because as Christians we must come to understand that love is the Cross. It means hurting and entering into vulnerable places together. It means that our priests and bishops need to look into the eyes of those they hurt and seek amends grounded in love, not distanced legal documents, protocols, or fortifying of bureaucracy. It means confronting the weak places within that we all struggle with in this life and seeking the light of charity and truth to grow spiritually.
The Church is not a business. She is the Body of Christ who is commissioned with drawing a dying world into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity. She is the place where broken people should be able to find rest, respite, peace, and light, not only in the Sacraments, but in their brothers and sisters within the Church. Times like these, and every age, require that we all stand firmly at the foot of the Cross and endure the pain required so that we can grow in charity. It is only then that we will start to heal the deep wounds infecting Christ’s Body and go into the great mystery of Christ’s infinite love together: The One who loved us to the end.