As the depths of the moral and spiritual corruption in the hierarchy continue to be brought into the light, many in the laity are wondering what should and can be done in response? Some want massive overhauls of the hierarchy, but quite frankly, that is not in our power within the laity.
We should, and must, demand accountability, correction, reform, strong leadership, justice, and a cleansing of the Church. We need our shepherds to in fact shepherd, and as they dither and waver, souls are lost as people leave the Church.
Lives have been utterly destroyed and a great wedge has been placed between the laity and the hierarchical priesthood. Our trust has been broken one too many times and the betrayal is a deep wound in the Mystical Body. It is a destructive divide that has gotten wider and it has created division even between good and holy priests and the laity. The Enemy has made a direct hit, but all hope is never lost, and Christ constantly renews His Church throughout her course in history for the betterment and good of souls.
While many members of the Church—both priests and laity—put forth ideas and proposals to fix the situation, it is clear that the entire Church needs to come together to find solutions in order to root out—what appears to be—widespread corruption in the highest echelons of the Church. God is cleansing His Church and He will appoint the right people from all levels of the Church to help bring good out of evil. Purification is painful, so the process will be difficult for all of us. We love Christ and His Church, and it is both maddening and heart-breaking to see the evil currently being brought into the light.
We trust that He will raise up saints for our time to help us through this difficult period. He has done it before and we know He will do it again, but he is not only calling a few chosen souls to be saints. He is calling you and me to become saints. Through our constant conversion of heart and ardent desire to lead holy lives, Christ will heal the festering wound that is hurting the Mystical Body. We all have a role to play. We are one body, united together under the headship of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The call to holiness and the mission for our lives is given to us in Baptism. The essence and meaning of our lives is fully realized in our baptismal promises and our participation in the life of Christ and His Church. We die to our old selves and put on Christ. This transforms us at the deepest levels of reality, but it also means we are meant to move outwards in order to transform the world around us and draw others to Christ through the holiness of our lives. Holiness is not something we achieve in isolation. We learn to become holy people of God through the life of the Church, the Sacraments, prayer, our vocations, and the holy relationships we develop with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not in this alone. Holiness is not a path of isolation. It is a path grounded and firmly rooted in communion.
Holiness is also not a passive activity where we receive the Sacraments and expect to become holy without the involvement of our will. We must allow the grace the Holy Spirit pours out upon us to truly bring conversion of heart. While the level and rapidity of holiness we develop is solely up to God, we must be actively cooperating with His plan in our lives. We must be open to His working within our souls. Conversion is a daily process. Temptations will arise throughout our lives and we must, through grace, rely on Christ to make us stronger through those temptations. We are called to endure afflictions in hope. St. Paul puts it best in Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
The difficult reality of the battles we wage is something that has fallen by the wayside over the last few decades. Holiness is seen as something that is too difficult for the average member of the Church, so we turn a blind eye or wink at sin, especially sexual sin. The fruits of this mentality are resulting in a greatly damaged harvest. Many of our leaders have failed to fully call us to embrace our baptismal promises and the requirements of a life of holiness. The path is not easy, but it is the path to true happiness. It is the path to God. We are in fact meant to endure and overcome temptations by a reliance on Christ, rather than conform ourselves to this age.
We need to be encouraged and reminded that it is not that we are never going to struggle with sin and weakness, in fact, we are strengthened through our endurance during these trials. God invites us into greater union with Him through the very temptations He allows us to experience. This is the same for clergy and laity alike. He is not tempting us, but He is allowing spiritual combat in our lives so that we turn more fully to Him. We can’t forget as we look in horror at the sex abuse scandal, that all of us are engaged in battle. The current scandal—all sin—is a failure to love as Christ loves. It is a failure to see another person with the eyes of Christ, above and beyond our own sinful desires.
We must constantly conform our hearts to Christ. This is especially true when temptations related to other people arise. It is an opportunity to truly be conformed to Christ and to be strengthened by saying no to those temptations and learning to love another person in the manner with which they were made to be loved. Authentic love that is grounded in communion with Christ is more powerful than any sexual sin we are tempted by or give into. This is true of all sins in relationships. There is nothing in this life that compares to accepting the love Christ offers to us and loving others as Christ loves. It is worth the battle. Our perseverance and reliance on Christ to overcome temptations will be rewarded with an abundant joy.
In order to endure such struggles, we must actively pursue the path to holiness. Conversion is not a one-time actively. We must embrace the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity in our daily lives, which then allow us to work towards the cardinal virtues—prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice—which are the habits we need in order to allow God to work in our lives and lead us to the ultimate happiness He has made us for, which is communion with the Most Holy Trinity. We are made to enter into the love of the Divine Persons. That is where our joy lies.
This most recent scandal—one of far too many—reflects the very real weaknesses of men who could not and would not endure the temptations they experienced in order to be brought into a deeper communion with Christ and their neighbor. This is a danger for all of us. It may not always be at the same level, but every sin we commit impacts our communion with God and our neighbor. This is not just a hierarchy problem. It is also a laity problem. It is a heart problem at the very deepest levels of the Church. All of us fall short of our call by Christ.
Yes, we should be righteously angry at the moral and spiritual corruption on display in the Church today, but we must also ask ourselves, where are we failing? What am I doing in my daily life that falls short of what God is asking of me? Am I loving as He loves? Do I see Christ in my neighbor? Do I even see my neighbor? Do I truly want to be a saint? Have I ardently prayed for God to make me a saint? Am I actually praying daily? Do I go frequently to the Sacraments for strength and for healing? Is my family working towards heaven together? Do I understand the virtues I should be striving for with God’s help? Are we living as brothers and sisters in Christ through an authentic embracing of communion? Do I call on Christ and trust in Him when temptations of any sort arise? The only aspect we have some level of control over—our progress is ultimately up to God—is how we are living our daily lives and whether or not we are seeking holiness.
Most of us are not going to be able to enact reforms that change the hierarchy. We can let our thoughts be known in our own parishes and dioceses—these should be made known—but we must keep in mind that our good and holy priests are also grappling with the revelations coming out throughout the Church. It’s also become clear that many of them have lived carrying great burdens from situations they encountered at some point in their formation or their ministry. They too need to time to consider how to respond. We all do. We must avoid and fight the temptation to separate ourselves from our priests. We must work to trust them, even though the scandals have caused great pain. We cannot allow further division within the Church.
It’s a deeply difficult and tragic situation, but we fix our gaze firmly on Christ and answer His call in our lives and as the community of believers. If we truly want to heal the wounds in the Church, then we must center our lives on Him and we must be willing to firmly begin to walk the path to holiness. Not in an abstract way. Not in a sentimental way. Not ten years from now. We must be willing to embrace the Cross and the Resurrection together now. There is no comfortable Catholicism. Our Lord died on the Cross and rose again for our salvation. We too must die to self while always living in the hope of the life to come. Love is always demanding. Accepting Our Lord’s call for each one us is how we transform the Church, and ultimately, the world.