Catholic Exchange: How To Approach Our Priests About the Scandals

One of the good things coming out of the evil that is the current sex abuse crisis in the Church is the call for a closer relationship between the laity and the clergy. The days of placing priests on pedestals passed with the first sex abuses crisis 17 years ago. This is a good thing because it allows us to get to work in cooperating with God’s plan for cleansing and renewing His Bride, the Church. Artificial barriers that have been put in place in the past, especially due clericalism, are breaking down as they must in order for cleansing and renewal to take place.

The priesthood is due our reverence for its sacred role and hierarchical function within the Church. Priests serve as our spiritual fathers who act in persona Christi—in the person of Christduring the Mass and in the Sacraments. They also serve as alter Christus—another Christ—to us and the world. It is because of this sacred role that they are due our respect and a properly ordered reverence. There is a considerable difference at the level of being between a priest and a member of the laity, but that does not preclude erroneous forms of separation between the two vocations.

While they should be men of considerable holiness, they are Fallen men, and their progress in the spiritual life will vary, just as it does within the laity and in the lives of religious. Most priests are not yet saints and so we must also view them in a more practical and merciful light. They afford us the same mercy and compassion as they shepherd us through our spiritual lives both through the Sacraments and in our daily dealings with one another.

All of us—laity and priests—need to find a more balanced understanding of our connection with one another in the communion we share, especially in this time of great scandal.

The laity has been demanding a greater role in response to the rampant sex abuse coming to light in various parts of the world. This is especially true in the United States. The laity wants more access to the hierarchy in order to bring their talents and gifts into the service of the Church. As long as the intention of the laity is to support and encourage the hierarchical Church, this is a great good, in my opinion. Why not embrace the different gifts that God has bestowed upon the members of the Church in order to purge and renew Holy Mother Church? Issues arise, however, when the laity oversteps its function and seeks power that God has not given to us.

We in the laity must remember that our role will always remain a much needed advisory role. God has given authority to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. That means our priests who share in Holy Orders with their bishop have the ultimate say in our parishes and the bishop has ultimate say in a diocese. We cannot demand the ability to make decisions that are not ours to make, no matter how great the crisis. We should, however, offer counsel and guidance to our priests as we are able and as the gifts God has given to us allow.

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Catholic Exchange: How We Can Grow in Divine and Fraternal Charity

A few days ago a friend of mine came to me to share some joyful news: She’s pregnant.

She felt some trepidation in telling me the news. This friend and I have suffered together through the grief of miscarriage; for her the loss of her daughter and for me the loss of four children, two daughters and two sons. She and I have stood at the foot of the Cross together bearing the agony of losing a child to miscarriage and learning to offer everything back to Christ.

She prayed with me at the local Planned Parenthood a few short weeks after my fourth miscarriage while she grieved her miscarriage that occurred a few months prior. We are sisters that Christ has bonded together through the shared pain of loss transformed in His eternal fire of love through emptying ourselves in service to the unborn. Even so, our paths are still very different.

“My path to holiness will differ from my sisters in Christ, just as theirs will differ from my own.”

By His grace, I have come to accept that I will not have anymore children. Our Lord’s will for me in this area is crystal clear. He has blessed us with our daughter, but my days of changing diapers and first steps are done.

This is an area spiritually where I fought hard against God’s will for years, only to discover that peace and joy are only found in living in accordance with His will over my own. I finally relinquished my grip and let go. I stopped comparing myself to other Catholic mothers and started to live the life that God has given to me. My path to holiness will differ from my sisters in Christ, just as theirs will differ from my own.

Even with this relinquishment on my part, my friend was concerned about sharing her wonderful news with me. She knows the tears I have shed in secret or at Mass because I miss my babies or because everyone around me my age seems to be pregnant. A couple of years ago the news would have been bittersweet for me. I would have been happy for her, but sad that I will never again get to deliver such amazing news again myself or hold another infant child in my arms that is my child.

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Catholic Exchange: The Good We Have Within Us is Because of God Alone

The self-help industry has made billions of dollars convincing people that they simply need to believe in their goodness to succeed. Much of what is marketed by self-help gurus is called moral therapeutic deism. It’s a belief system that says that God is all loving and merciful and He loves you just the way you are regardless of any sins you commit. You are a “good” person and that’s all that matters.

In fact, sin doesn’t have much of a place in moral therapeutic deism. Any progress a person makes in this life is due to that person’s strength and ability and God is merely a spectator in the life of the individual. It is true that God loves each one us, but He doesn’t love or tolerate our sin. Our ultimate happiness lies in Him alone and that means the necessary purging of our attachment to sin in this life and in Purgatory.

“No, God is good. We are sinners. That is what every saint down through the ages has taught.”

Moral therapeutic deism is also a major problem in the Church today. It is one of the many pieces that fit together to show us how we have found ourselves in such dark days.

I sat in a discussion a few weeks back that I have pondered for some time now. The discussion turned to how we are “good”—laity and clergy who haven’t molested anyone—and so we can never understand such egregious sins as what has been brought to light by the scandals. That stuck with me and not because I agreed with this assessment. It is the opposite of what the saints say of themselves throughout Church history. No, God is good. We are sinners. That is what every saint down through the ages has taught.

 

It is easy for us to look at the grave sins of others and say: “Thank you Lord that I am not so-and-so.” We see this illustrated in Sacred Scripture by Our Lord Himself when he compares the prayers of the Pharisee to the sinner. What we forget is that the only reason we are not “so-and-so” is purely by God’s grace.

We do not sin or fall into those temptations because of God’s grace working in our lives. He has kept us upright, through no merit of our own. We are not prone to weakness in every area. There are temptations we haven’t had to face. We haven’t had to battle those demons. Thanks be to God! This should humble us greatly.

As I heard it said ‘that we could never understand these sins because we are good’, I thought to myself, “But I do understand how these men could commit these sins.” I don’t need to ask “why” because I know the darkness in my own heart. In fact, I’m positive that Our Lord hasn’t even shown me the blackest parts of my heart quite yet because, in His mercy, He knows I’m not ready to confront them, but I will have to, in His appointed time.

No, it’s not the exact same type of darkness as these egregious sins, but the more Christ sheds His purifying light into my own soul, the more I see how weak and sinful I am. It is through this process born of prayer, frequent reception of the Sacraments, intense periods of desolation, and spiritual warfare that I have come to understand the deep wound the Fall inflicted on human nature at a visceral level. The Fall has wounded us far deeper than most of us realize. These scandals should horrify us, but not surprise us. We are all capable of great evil without God’s grace.

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Catholic Exchange: What I Learned by Caring for Holy Relics

A little over four years ago a friend of mine called enlisting my help with an unlikely and unexpected project. Her parish priest had just died and she was the executor of his estate. Upon his passing, he left his estate over 70 holy relics and artifacts from our Catholic tradition. The will was complicated and she needed me to help her find reliable guardians to take the holy relics in order to avoid violating Canon Law or the danger of the holy relics finding their way onto Ebay.

I discovered, much to my consternation, that holy relics are in fact on sale on Ebay, which is a gross violation of Canon Law and appalling on many levels. At that point in time, I had little to no experience with holy relics. Even during my time living in Europe, I did not stumble across a lot of holy relics.

A large relic collection

The first time I walked into her home to begin helping her and her husband with the task, I was stunned by the large collection that spread across their living room and dining room. There were reliquaries of varying sizes including one the size of a small tabernacle. I walked around the room with my mouth agape.

I surveyed the collection exclaiming in awe and wonder: Look, St. Thomas Aquinas! St. Therese of Lisieux! St. John the Baptist?! St. John Damascene! St. Teresa of Avila! St. Dominic! Our Lord’s manger! But then, standing in a rather simple reliquary for what it held, were three slivers from the True Cross Our Lord died upon. I was stunned. Pieces of the Cross that Christ died upon for our salvation were right in front of me on my friend’s dining room table.

We then got to work, matching the wax seals on each relic with the paper bulls we had that authenticated each one. Some never had the paperwork, but the vast majority did. Once we had a completed list of each authenticated relic, I went to work calling every priest I have known for the last ten years. After I exhausted my resources in the clergy, I turned to trustworthy members of the laity and religious orders. The relics ended up going to parishes and communities across the country as people offered to take over guardianship of these sacred items.

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Catholic Exchange: A Call to Spiritual Arms in Response to the Sex Abuse Scandals

What do we do now? That is the question facing all of us within the Mystical Body in response to the ever growing scandals being brought to light. No doubt we are angry, but we must channel and harness that anger lest it become wrath and remain at the level of blind rage long-term.

As long as we are ruled by rage, we are unable to prudently decide a course of action. We often also go deaf and ignore the calls of our true shepherds who seek to guide us through this hurricane.

Spiritual Warfare

The calls for reform, letter writing campaigns, protests, and other similar responses are good. However,they are not the primary means by which we win this battle. The Church needs to be purified from this evil. But that purification requires our willingness to enter into the great spiritual warfare that is going on around us. It has always been our mission, but often we become blinded by the material aspect of our nature and set aside or abandon the spiritual. That, or we  simply forget that the spiritual is higher than the material.

This war is against Satan. It is not simply a matter of Fallen men choosing to do diabolically evil acts. Satan is always after the priesthood and he’s always after each one of us. Every hour of every day, he seeks to drag us to hell.

 

The Enemy wants us to turn on one another. He seeks to sow greater seeds of division. He wants the laity to distrust the priesthood. He wants the priesthood to distance itself from the laity. That’s the whole point.

If we cannot harness our outrage for good and beg for the Holy Spirit to give us the eyes to see as Christ sees, then we will be impotent in the face of the Enemy. The spiritual battle is where purification will spring forth. It will be a long battle. One we will wage for the rest of our lives, but it is the battle we are all called to at Baptism.

We must not forget that the Church is “militant”. She is “the army of Christ”, the “levy of the living God”; “the levy of the great King”, in which we were enrolled at baptism and confirmation.

Henri de Lubac, Splendor of the Church, 185.

Prayer and Fasting

Evil never gives up power easily and without a fight. Our letters and outcry won’t matter at all unless we are first and foremost praying and fasting in atonement for the sins of the Church. Our Lord Himself tells us that certain sins must be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29).

We must view this fight through the eyes of faith, not the organs that allow us to see the material world around us. The Church battles “powers and principalities” internally and exteriorly. The scandals reveal to us the breadth and depth of the fight before us and the rot that infects the Mystical Body.

“The Church is unceasingly torn by internal as well as exterior conflict”; the “mystery of iniquity” is at work without as well as within. The great struggle that had its prelude in heaven is fought out among men through the whole of time. People do not like their apathy thus disturbed and they are afraid of too lofty a vocation; the bonds of flesh and blood take some breaking. The world views as an insult and provocation anything that does not conform to its own ideas; feeling itself threatened by the least of the Church’s spiritual conquests, it is never without reaction to them.

Ibid, 187

This reality is true within the hierarchy, within the laity, and in the world. Far too many people grow apathetic, indifferent, or even hostile to the vocation we are all called to, which is sainthood. This conflict plays out in many ways, and tragically, even to the point of demonic sexual abuse of minors and other people. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 that the Enemy disguises himself as “an angel of light” and his followers will disguise themselves as righteous leaders. While it is shocking to hear of the horrific deeds committed, it is not surprising once we understand the rules of the battlefield we are all standing on. We are fighting the powers of hell inside of the Church today. It’s been the same way since the institution of the Church.

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Catholic Exchange: Supporting Our Parishes is an Act of Love

One of the biggest struggles many Catholics face each year is how to financially support our parishes and dioceses, while also giving to the poor and needy, and providing for the needs of our families. This topic results in a wide range of opinions, some of them heated.

The most recent sex abuse scandals, including the horrifying Grand Jury Report out of Pennsylvania, has made it even more difficult for many people to want to support their parishes or dioceses financially. This withholding is seen as a just response to the scandals and it is true that money talks. Withholding financial contributions is an effective mechanism for bringing about change, but in doing so we need to consider prudently, justly, and charitably what we hope to accomplish and the consequences of withholding our financial support, especially within our own parishes.

There are in fact just reasons for not donating to a certain cause, even within a diocese, but we should prayerfully discern if this is what God is truly calling us to do. We are stewards of the parishes we are members of and we share in that responsibility together as a community. If we do not provide for the material needs of our parishes, then they will no longer be able to function and provide for the needs of the worshipping community now and for future generations. In truth, our sharing in the material gifts and goods that God has given to us is an act of love towards God and our neighbor.

Our decision should be measured and prudent, so that we don’t end up hurting our own communities and the efforts of the many good and holy priests serving our parishes.

Financially supporting the Church in love

There is much more to supporting the Church financially than simply an obligation or a duty. In fact, a sense of duty only moves us so far. We are meant to support our parishes and the Church out of love—caritas. It is within our parishes where we are nourished by the Word of God and the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the Holy Eucharist through the celebration of the Mass. It is in our parishes—as the worshipping community—that we enter into the great mysteries of our faith as one body and encounter the Living God. It is in that encounter where we learn to love as Christ loves and that love sends us outward into the world.

Love dwells in relationship and relationships always require something of us. There is nothing more demanding and life-giving than our relationship with Christ who draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity and who binds us to one another in the love between the Divine Persons.

In the love-story recounted by the Bible, he comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, he guided the nascent Church along her path. Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his Word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence, and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He has loved us first, and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 17

This community of believers is comprised of those men and women who have entered into the Sacrament of Baptism in order to die to self and rise to a new life in Christ. We are no longer on our journey alone, rather, we are now in communion—communio—with the rest of the Mystical Body. We most readily live that communion through our parishes when we come together in the Liturgy, Sacraments, prayer, service, and community. In order for the Sacraments to be made present to us, to attend Mass, enter more fully into communion through ministry, and delve deeper into what we believe, we must have buildings and resources at our disposal. This is an aspect of being a member of the worshipping community.

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Catholic Exchange: Living Holy Lives Will Help Heal the Church

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.

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Catholic Exchange: Re-Thinking the Benedict Option in Light of Lumen Gentium

A few years ago, when The Benedict Option was becoming popular in certain Christian circles—primarily through the writings of Rod Dreher who is influenced by Alasdair MacIntyre—I was initially intrigued and drawn to this approach. The culture was, and continues to be, in a downward spiral. Anti-Christian sentiments and policies continue apace throughout the Western world, while many of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world suffer violent persecution and even martyrdom. As Western Civilization continues to abandon its Christian roots in favor of nihilism, hedonism, consumerism, materialism, utilitarianism, and relativism, many Christians are wondering what our response should be to the situation.

Retreating from the world to build primarily Christian communities is attractive. I myself would like to find friends within the Church who desire greater prayer in small communities, whether it be through a weekly or monthly gathering to pray the Rosary or Vespers. I want holier friendships with my brothers and sisters in Christ that are grounded in the communion we share within the Mystical Body. I want to live a fully Catholic life, so it makes sense that people want to build up communities around monasteries and churches in order to weather the storms of this age.

The problem is that, for Catholics, the laity’s mission differs—while also sharing similarities—with consecrated religious such as Benedictines. We are not called to retreat from the world. We are called to go out to meet the world and bring it to Christ.

But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.

Lumen Gentium 31

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Catholic Exchange: To Evangelize the Culture, We Must Equip the Laity

When I read Bishop Robert Barron’s Op-Ed last week entitled “Getting out of the Sacristy: A look at our pastoral priorities” a lot of questions immediately came to mind. I’ve read many of Bishop Barron’s books and I recently made sure that every member of our parish’s Evangelization Team, and both of our priests, got a copy of his book To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age co-authored with John L. Allen Jr. I agree both with his approach and largely his diagnosis of the problems facing the Church in the New Evangelization at this point in time, as well as the great need to fully implement Gaudium et Spes.

Even so, I thought that Bishop Barron should have gone further in his piece and looked to the laity. Especially in our time, the faithful Catholic laity are called to a particular vocation to evangelize in the secular world and are especially called to evangelize the culture. This is articulated in both Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici.

In no way do I think that Bishop Barron is calling for the ministerial priesthood to take up the laity’s role. However, I do think there is an issue that needs to be addressed, namely that the ministerial priesthood’s role within the Church is primarily to teach, to sanctify, and to govern the People of God and to make the Sacraments present to us. This is the primary mission of the priesthood. In so doing, the laity is equipped for their mission of evangelizing the world. The fact of the matter is, not only has Gaudium et Spes been greatly misinterpreted and poorly implemented in many corners, but Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici have been ignored in far too many parishes as well.

The ministerial priesthood is meant to help prepare those of us in the laity to go out into the world to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are sent forth at the end of Mass in order to bring people back to Christ. It’s much like the great sending forth when God speaks Creation into existence through the Word. It is the great exitus, as understood by St. Thomas Aquinas. Creation is then meant to return to God, reditus. We too as the Mystical Body are sent forth in order to bring all peoples to God through the Church. Our greatest desire should be to draw all peoples to Christ in the eucharistic banquet. Based on his previous works, Bishop Barron and I would probably agree that it is primarily the laity who are sent in that great movement (exitus) in order to bring others to the salvation extended to all peoples by Christ through His Church (reditus).

Practically speaking, the laity is not fully equipped to live it’s mission in the world. Bishop Barron rightly points out, the numbers of people leaving the Church are startling. Studies show that less than 20% of regular Church attendees are involved in ministry or donating to their parish on a given Sunday. Most of the time, the numbers are even lower than 20%. Yes, we need to evangelize the culture, but we also need to stop the hemorrhaging in our parishes. We should be drawing those who are already sacramentalized into a deeper encounter with Christ and, through the guidance of the ministerial priesthood, we must find ways to equip the laity to evangelize the world. How do we engage the people who are in the pews now, so they can go out to proclaim the Good News?

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Catholic Exchange: Put Your Faith in Christ, Not in Feelings

Rather frequently, I hear people make arguments about aspects of the spiritual life, the Church, morality, or relationships that are predicated upon a particular individual’s feelings. Some will complain that the Mass doesn’t make them “feel” good or the Church’s teaching doesn’t cause a flood of the emotions they are looking for in their lives. I’ve had friends tell me that their relationship with Jesus requires them to “feel good” on some level.

The problem is, our emotions or “feelings” — as we call them colloquially — are an unruly taskmaster and a dangerous guide in the spiritual life. It is true that our emotions are an aspect of being a human person, but they are in no way meant to overrule our intellect or our will. It is not uncommon for our emotions to lead us into temptation and take us down paths that are destructive.

When an individual tells me how essential it is for them to “feel” the presence of God or to experience Him subjectively in the Mass or in prayer, I tend to ask them some questions. First, I ask them how many times a day they experience an emotion? Do those emotions always comport with what is going on in reality? Do our bodies impact our emotional state e.g. level of sleep, stress, even what we’ve eaten? Is God our emotions? Does God cease to love us if we don’t “feel” good on a given day? What about the very real dark night experiences of some of the holiest souls in our Tradition? Can our emotions be impacted by our encounters with other people? There are a lot of other questions that should and can be considered when it comes to deciphering how much our emotions can impede our ability to understand reality, love and serve God properly, love our neighbor as we ought, and progress in holiness.

Part of the spiritual life is learning to temper, control, or discard our emotional states. We can’t always control our emotions, so at times we are called to endure until an emotional state passes. Much of the time an emotion we experience in a given situation is irrelevant to what is actually happening outside of ourselves. The Mass is a good example.

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