As happens to all of us at various times in the spiritual life, I temporarily took my eyes off of Christ and started staring in horror at the storms waging around me in my own life and in the life of the Church. Saturday I found myself dazed after the initial shock wore off of my husband telling me he was coughing up blood again. In the months he was symptom free I briefly forgot that this cloud of his serious chronic illness is always hanging over us. That isn’t meant to sound pessimistic. It is a reality we face, and any quiet periods we get can last only an instant. I grew complacent, so I wasn’t as ready as I should have been even though I specifically remember a nudge from the Holy Spirit a couple of months ago telling me to be prepared for another round.
Some of the fears I have carried these 1.5 years began to creep up again. Will I become a widow in the next few years? Is he going to have to stop working at some point because the disease takes over? How many more times will he end up in the hospital this year? When will the next episode occur? Why don’t the doctors in the ER listen? Are they even going to look for new damage or not? How do I talk to my daughter about this? Do I keep it from her or not? This answer came two days later when she figured it out on her own.
She’s much too smart and rather deeply connected to my emotional states for me to successfully keep it from her for long. And when she figured it out, the nightmares returned that she struggled with all of last year. That’s how her anxiety about her father’s illness manifests the most and we are working through that through prayer, discussion, and regular snuggles. She told me she would rather know when it happens and I will respect that wish as long as she seems emotionally able to handle it. He’s not in serious danger right now, but it’s still stressful while we wait to see if the other shoe is going to drop. We have returned to the waiting game.
While all of this was going on, other responsibilities started to pile up on top of me. I was getting messages about the classes I am supposed to teach in our homeschool coop while my husband was in the ER. Nobody could have known that he was in the hospital, but the timing added to my stress level. It is very difficult for me to focus on anything else when I’m waiting for news from my sick husband.
When he told me that he was being released and we would have to wait and see what his Pulmonologist says, the constant frustration we face with the medical community escalated again. I became exasperated and angry about the situation. We are in a constant battle with forces that are largely ignorant, apathetic, indifferent, or even hostile. I sympathize with anyone who deals with either a serious chronic illness or a life-threatening illness. The way the sick are treated in this country is appalling.
After things quieted down, I read the news on my iPhone and discovered the bomb that Archbishop Vigano dropped on the Church Saturday. Whether or not all or part of his allegations are true is something that needs to be investigated. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely that the highest levels of the hierarchy will complete the much needed investigation in order to uncover the truth. That’s something we will all have to come to terms with until the truth comes out in God’s appointed time and in His ways. I’ve studied enough Church history know that none of this is surprising or shocking. Of course there’s rather rampant corruption in various parts of the hierarchy. It’s appalling, maddening, and disgusting, but most of us are powerless to bring about wide-spread changes.
Even with my practical take on Church history, I started to feel numb to it all. When Cardinal Cupich’s insipid interview came out the other day implying that the sex abuse scandal isn’t a high priority compared to social justice issues I was angry briefly, but then a strong sense of numbness set in. Many of them don’t get it, and worse, many do not care. During that time I also found out that my dad is struggling a lot right now with his illness and he now has Shingles, because the chronic debilitating pain he suffers from isn’t enough. It was all getting to be too much, so retreating seemed like the best course of action. This retreating included blocking myself off from any emotional response to the scandals. I put up my defensive wall.
In reality, numbness doesn’t work either. I do care and I have spent the past few weeks trying to help both as a writer and as a sister in Christ in my own parish through prayer, fasting, and action when asked by the Holy Spirit and other people. When coupled with the suffering of my family, the scandal temporarily became too much for me and that’s a normal response when our attention is needed elsewhere. My mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reserves have to be channeled where they are needed. Earlier this week, I needed to focus on my family and my own emotional and spiritual recovery from everything. I needed to distance myself from out there so that I could focus on right here.
In thinking through my response and returning to the Sacrament of Confession last night, I was able to see that our focus more-often-than-not is meant to be right here, not out there. You and I can’t force corrupt leaders in the Church to resign. We don’t have that power. We can’t force them to investigate the allegations in question. Corrupt men do not care about the truth the way you and I do. They fear the truth and so they will do whatever they can to prevent it from coming to the light of day. The problem for them is that God is Truth, so eventually the truth will come out, even if it takes decades or centuries. God will cleanse his Church of the current heresies, which are primarily focused on disordered sexual inclinations. These men will eventually meet justice, if not in this life, then in the next.
Since we largely cannot bring about change at higher levels, what are we to do? We must practice the Catholic principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. We need to build prayerful, holy, devout communities at the local level. Our parishes must become vibrant beacons of hope in dark times. We must work to undo the evil done by predators and corrupt men through the holiness of our own witness. We need to allow God to work in us, so that others see the light of Christ shining forth from us. We allow ourselves to be conformed by the mysteries of the Mass and enter into deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how we cooperate with God’s cleansing and renewal of the Church.
First, we need to stop fighting with one another. In our anger and frustration about the situation we are taking it out on one another. This is typical of families in times of stress and strife, but we need to work to overcome this Fallen tendency. Let’s stop nit-picking at one another. In charity, we need to be willing to close our mouths and over-look minor shortcomings in our brothers and sisters. We need to practice more humility and stop feeling the need to correct every little thing that we don’t agree with or that we see as a problem. This is especially true in ministry and community. We are going to have to figure out how to work together and put our own egos in check. All of us. Myself included.
Second, prayer is an essential aspect of holy communities. We need to be people of regular and frequent prayer. This includes as individuals, but also as communities. The Mass is our primary form of communal worship, but we also need to find other ways to come together in prayer to offer reparations for the sins of the Church and to bring about a greater sense of the communion we share in Christ. Eucharistic Adoration is an excellent example. My own parish is having a special Holy Hour in atonement tomorrow evening. Rosary groups, Bible studies, Divine Mercy, etc. are all great ways to come together in deeper prayer so that we can be conformed in charity and truth in order to strengthen our communities.
Third, we need to practice loving patience with our brothers and sisters whose faith is failing or shaken right now. The supernatural virtue of faith is a grace that only comes from God. It is not ours. We can’t give it to ourselves. If we have a strong faith through these storms it is because God has given it to us and we are to use that gift to lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not need to judge those who are tempted to leave the Faith. We need to lift them up and help them overcome that temptation if we are able. We don’t have to fully understand this inclination, but we do need to be loving witnesses of the truth of Christ and His Church to those who are wavering.
Fourth, we should be lifting up the good and holy priests in our lives through prayer, fasting, service, and encouragement. They are our spiritual fathers and our brothers. We need to be praying for all the clergy, but we have the ability to specifically lift up the men in our lives who have chosen to lay down their lives in service to Christ and us. They most especially need our prayers as they shepherd our communities through this period of intense confusion and pain. We cannot undo the evil of the priests who chose the diabolical over Christ, but we can support the priests in our parishes who are ardently seeking holiness and who want to lead us to Christ. These men are not the enemy and we need to make sure that in our anger we are able to differentiate between the good and the evil in our midst.
Fifth, and this should be first, we are meant to be a eucharistic people. The Mass should be the very center of our lives. We can no longer be cultural or punch-card thype Catholics. Comfortable Catholicism is dead. In an age of scandal, our faith will not withstand this cleansing unless we are conformed to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Our parishes must become communities of the Holy Eucharist where we are truly nourished and strengthened by Christ’s bodily presence among us and we come to understand how deeply we are united to one another in Him. It is from His Presence that we will be able to meet the great spiritual challenges we will all face for the rest of our lives. This isn’t going away. This is not going to have a quick fix. We will live in the shadow of these scandals for decades and the Church will continue to hemorrhage because of it, but our hope remains in Christ as He purifies His Bride.
Struggling with numbness, anger, shock, pain, and a sense of being overwhelmed is normal for times such as these. I’ve had every emotion imaginable since the McCarrick scandal broke in June. It’s what we do with those emotions that matters. We must harness them for good and not allow them to rule us. The Sacrament of Confession is the ideal place to bring the anger we are dealing with or other struggles. Through the priest, the Holy Spirit will give us the healing we need and I have found the penances that I’ve been given lately are what is needed for me to get back up and begin again. This Sacrament, along with frequent reception of Holy Communion will help give us the grace to continue to fight the good fight.
I know that I can’t change the state of the Church myself. Most of us are not in positions of power to do so, and for those who are in those positions, we must pray that they will be able to follow Christ’s will and help purge the Church of corruption. The rest of us, must wage the fight at home in our own families and communities. We need to be powerful witnesses to the transforming love of Christ and bring about reform within ourselves and our local parishes. Change and reform will come from the local levels raising up holy communities and it will spread like wildfire throughout the Church in God’s time. Renewal will happen, but it is not up to us as to how or when that will occur. We simply must soldier on and never lose hope in Christ Our Savior.