There are a lot of wounds in the Mystical Body today and, in many ways, the Synod on Synodality is pouring salt into those wounds. Since 2018—and even before that—it seems as if the cries of the evangelized People of God continue to go ignored. Whether it is the scandals, corruption, the lack of supernatural leadership in the pandemic, the “accompaniment” of error and false teaching, the behemoth bureaucracy that is taking over most chanceries, or the great agonies and afflictions experienced in our daily lives, we do not feel listened to in so many ways. At least in the ways that truly matter.
I read Amy Welborn’s opinion piece entitled “You’re Not Listening” at The Catholic World Report this week and shared it with friends. Everyone agreed it was dead on. I would only add an increased focus on the lack of spiritual leadership, but otherwise, she explains why a suffering people is tired of meetings and endless talking, rather than an authentic living of our mission. We have been living through the Passion of Our Lord and we have been met with an ever-increasing bureaucracy that is sucking the life out of the Church and tiring out the laity and many priests. Morale is very low across the Church in the West.
Others and I came up against this false “listening Church” in our diocese recently. It was clear that no one is interested in listening to those who want the Church to live in the truth and for the hierarchy to fully call us and show us the radicality of discipleship and the demands of holiness. This is not some kind of agenda in a time of competing agendas. The Church’s entire mission is the salvation of souls. This is the only agenda that matters.
When we don’t fight to save souls, we endanger others and our own soul in the process. Heaven or hell are the possibilities, and the latter is possible for all of us if we are not seeking the narrow way. Universalism is still heresy, regardless of its prevalence in the pews. This is why the very notion of being open to false teachers in our midst is so egregious. Engaging with false prophets who manipulate and use our openness against us is not simply some kind of harmless listening session. Souls are always on the line. Christ doesn’t invite the devil in for a discussion, He casts him out.
Despite the pain and frustration this constant bureaucratic and “listening Church” has caused a great many of us, I realized that the answer is not to rant and rave in social media or even amongst our friends. I could have written an article this week detailing what exactly happened in my diocese, but it is pointless. I have no desire to contribute to a social media dumpster fire that will only fall on rocky soil and hearts that are not interested in listening to the truth. There is a much greater need today than more social media outrage.
We must go to the One who will listen to us. We must go to Our Lord, who waits for us in the Tabernacle. No, this response does not have the instant gratification of ranting at the diocese or any other diocese and spreading it across social media. In fact, in our utilitarian and productivity driven age—which has infected the Church—it doesn’t seem like doing anything, but this ultimately is the answer. This is everything. It is Our Lord who shows us to go to the lonely places to pray, and the Tabernacle is the loneliest place on earth. He is abandoned in countless Tabernacles. He meets us in our sense of abandonment.
It is impossible to change the hardened bureaucratic structures of the Church—that have gotten worse during this pandemic—through a social media assault or a campaign of letters or emails that are never actually read. There are times I do write public articles about situations that arise, but this time it became abundantly clear to me that no one is willing to listen, so I must turn to prayer and sacrifice, trusting the Holy Spirit will change hearts and minds. These are the times we must, like the saints, fall on our faces and plead before God for the conversion of ourselves and for the conversion of others, especially our clergy. This is why praying daily for priests is an essential task for every member of the Mystical Body.
“Prayer changes us and then it changes others.”
The last four years have been heartbreaking and difficult. One of the ways we heal is by dedicating much of our prayer before the Tabernacle to praying for our leaders. For those who betrayed us and abused our brothers and sisters. Those who think fatherhood is bureaucratic or business-like. Those who will not boldly proclaim the truth. Those who kept us from the Sacraments and left souls to die alone. For those who preach falsehood and lead others astray and for those who refuse to stand up to it despite knowing it is wrong. For those who are paralyzed by diabolical fear. For those enslaved by comfort, security, and worldliness. For those who have fled from the suffering of Christ’s people and failed to be other Christs to us. For those who place bodily safety and liability above our call to conquer fear through supernatural faith and the hope of eternal life. For the Pilates and Pharisees among us, who so often are you and me.
There are very serious things going on in the Church and we should be concerned, but we can only survive this tremendous storm by allowing Jesus into the boat. We let Him into the boat when we sit silently before His Real Presence and allow His gaze to penetrate our hearts. We live in St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. John Vianney, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Benedict, St. John of the Cross, St. Charles Borromeo kind of times. There is great darkness, but whenever these periods arise within the history of the Church, great saints are raised up who provide the antidote for what ails the Church at that moment. We need those saints today, and they are meant to be you and me.
The saints began their missions by growing in deep intimate union with God. They sought His face and His ways before they began bringing about reform and renewal. If we are not people of deep prayer, mortification, and sacrifices, who are willing to suffer and be hated for Christ’s name, then we will be ill-equipped to serve in the manner Christ wants us to serve Him. The saints were often hated most by their own brothers and sisters in Christ or superiors. Unless we are willing to be crucified out of love for others, even those who hurt us and who hate us, then we cannot become those saints.
One of the great dangers in our fast-paced, instant-gratification world is to want results now. We want the Church to change now, but history shows us that it takes decades, and sometimes, centuries, for difficulties and heresies to be rooted out. Coming before Our Lord in the Tabernacle teaches us patience and to rest in Him, as He rested in the boat during the storm.
Prayer changes us, and then it changes others. It transforms us into the witnesses we must become in order to help bring about renewal within the Church and evangelize the world. By going to Jesus in the Real Presence, we console Our Lord who is completely ignored by nearly 70% of Catholics who deny the Real Presence and those of His priests who no longer believe or refuse to defend the Blessed Sacrament.
We are never going to be a “listening Church” until we are a prayerful Church. Until we truly seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and surrender to the will of the Father with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, nothing will change. The “listening Church” to often sounds like my will, not the will of the Father. Too many of our leaders—much like the Apostles before the Resurrection—still cannot see that the Cross is the only way. The Way of the Cross is the path to the Resurrection. We must joyfully show them the way.
If you do not feel heard. If you are tired of processes, policies, procedures, meetings, and liability. If you are frustrated by the haven given to heterodox or heretical leaders in the clergy, religious life, and the laity, then take it all to the Our Lord in the Tabernacle. Rest your head upon His Most Sacred Heart. Let Him listen and bind your wounds. Ask Him for your mission. Ask Him to show you how to become the radiant and radical saint we need for these times.
We must be stripped of our desire to be loved, accepted, and heard by those who want this world over the next. Much like St. Francis, we must surrender everything to Him in prayer, and then, stone by stone, begin rebuilding the Church in our hearts, communities, and families. The only thing worth listening to today are true witnesses who live countercultural lives pointed towards heaven. Our joy is in Christ and our eternal home, not the things of this world that are passing away. The starting place for accepting that mission is in front of the Tabernacle.