**I know I haven’t been keeping up with the blog lately. I have multiple writing projects going at present, so I’ve been giving my attention to those over regular blogging. Below is the first piece I’ve published at Crisis Magazine.
***It should be noted, that while I published an article today respectfully disagreeing with my bishop, I will be making a holy hour for him before daily Mass today. I tell everyone who is frustrated with priests and bishops that the starting place for renewal is in prayer, fasting, and penance.
In mid-January, it was made public that His Excellency Bishop Barry Knestout (my local ordinary) had made arrangements with the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia to allow an invalid consecration of a female “bishop” at St. Bede’s Catholic Church in Williamsburg. The public outcry was so intense that the Episcopalians chose to move the event to a nearby Protestant church in order to avoid further division within the Catholic faithful of the diocese.
It should be noted that Bishop Knestout does have the authority under canon law to make prudential judgments concerning the use of diocesan property for ecumenical events. The issue many Catholics had with the decision did not have much to do with the bishop’s authority, but rather the possible impact on the ministerial priesthood and further erosion of the faithful’s understanding of the priesthood in an age marred by scandal and corruption.
For the last two years, the Church has been shaken by reports of clerical sex abuse, corruption, greed, and systematic cover-ups. All of these sins of the clergy have undermined the sacred office of the priesthood—especially the office of bishop. It is the bishop who is entrusted by Christ with the fullness of Holy Orders in order to teach, govern, and sanctify the people of God. Yet the faithful’s understanding of who it is that the priest represents—what his sacred role is within the Church—has been greatly damaged as a result.
These scandals are symptomatic of a much deeper problem. The Church is facing a crisis of faith, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out in his recent letter on the scandals. This crisis is most evident in the number of Catholics who deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly 70 percent deny the Real Presence. The state of the priesthood today and the lack of belief in the Real Presence are inextricably linked since Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist are bound together in the same reality. One would not exist without the other.
In response to the scandals and decades of poor catechesis, many Catholics have begun to take a rather distanced or indifferent approach to the priesthood. When potential solutions are proposed, many Catholics argue in favor of women’s ordination—which, as the Church has taught clearly and consistently for centuries, is ontologically impossible—or lifting the celibacy requirement on Latin Rite priests.
Last week, Fr. Jonathan Morris of Fox News fame announced that he has decided to leave the priesthood and is petitioning for laicization. In response to the very public announcement of his decision, I was immediately struck by how little so many respondents understood the nature of the priesthood. I was also disheartened to see so many Catholics throwing out popular cultural maxims such as “just follow your heart”, “you do you”, and the inevitable calls for an end to the vow of celibacy.
Our response to a priest leaving the priesthood should lie somewhere in the middle of the extremes of condemnation and “follow your heart.” Neither response does justice to such a complex issue.
Fr. Morris’ decision ultimately rests between him and God, but we also cannot pretend that the choice by a priest to leave the priesthood doesn’t have a deep impact on the faithful and on his brother priests who do stay true to their vows and who remain as the Church continues to be ravaged by scandal.
A priest leaving the priesthood causes pain, confusion, division, and scandal. The decision may be necessary, but we cannot equate a priest leaving the priesthood to someone simply changing jobs. The priesthood is intimately connected to communion, which means any decision made by a priest impacts others, many others, for good or for ill. In relation to the priesthood, the maxim “follow your heart” is nothing short of destructive and counter to the vows he took at ordination.
Dying to Self
When we are baptized into the Church, we become a new creation. Our old life of sin and death is washed away as we die with Christ and are regenerated in the waters of Baptism. We are then called to become a living sacrifice and to become like Christ in our daily lives. We also become members of the Mystical Body, which is one body united to Christ as the Head. We no longer live for ourselves. This takes on an even deeper meaning within the priesthood as these men, called by Christ, surrender their entire person to Him and His Church at ordination.
The Latin Rite’s requirement of a vow of celibacy for priests is a further call to self-emptying love and spiritual paternity. It is a radical form of dying to self in the image of Christ. By relinquishing a family of their own, Latin Rite priests give themselves completely over to Christ and the Church so that they can become spiritual fathers to Christ’s flock through a complete abandonment of self for the needs of God’s people. They give up a wife and children of their own so that God’s people may become their spiritual children and the Church their Bride in the image of Christ the Bridegroom. The vow of celibacy leads the priest to become an even greater reflection of Christ who abandons Himself completely to the will of the Father.
The celibacy requirement is not simply a “lofty ideal” or “an outdated practice”. It is a sacrifice made by these men that infuses immense grace into the Church through their constant emptying of self in conformity to Christ in service to us. They are witnesses to the higher spiritual goods and a reminder that one day marriage will end and we will all be united as one in heaven. Marriage is a great good, but it is not the ultimate good.
Our ultimate good is found in loving and serving God. Happiness can only be attained by living in communion with God and in accordance with His will. He is meant to be the very center of our lives. Our culture places an inordinate emphasis on romantic love and sex while largely rejecting God. In many ways, romantic love—which typically is reduced purely to sex—has become the only form of love and happiness.
As we begin a New Year with the Church embroiled in ever deepening scandal, we all must ask ourselves: What can I do in response? What can I do in the face of so much evil, incompetence, injustice, and lack of charity?
The solutions are difficult and will take decades — if not centuries — to take hold so that renewal can take place. The saints God will raise up in response to the rot within the Church will come forward, but in His time. What are we to do now, in this age, in response to the seemingly endless array of scandals?
The answer is given to us by Our Lord Himself when He tells us that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).” This does, first and foremost, mean martyrdom or truly dying for those we love as Our Lord did. But for most of us, it means dying to self daily in our relationships with the people God puts in our path. The answer is fleshed out throughout Sacred Scripture and expounded upon by St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John.
We now live as brothers and sisters in Christ bound together in Baptism strengthened through the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The greatest of these being charity. This means that we are called to live in authentic, deep, abiding charity in communion with one another. We are brothers and sisters in Christ whose love is meant to be so great in Him that we are willing to die for one another bodily or through sacrificing for one another in our daily lives.
I’ve been spending this Advent trying to enter into stillness and waiting. I am very bad at both. I’m a person of action, so being told that I’m to sit still and wait for God’s mission for me has been difficult. It’s felt more like a wrestling match than stillness.
A lot has happened within my vocation and spiritually for me this year. In the last few months everything I thought I would be doing crumbled in front of me. My daughter is now in Catholic school, so I’m not homeschooling her any longer. She’s really happy in school, so it was the right move for her. I’m no longer serving in ministry and all projects I had in the works ceased except for one in February. Everything I thought I was supposed to be doing or would be doing collapsed and I’ve been in a period of trying to figure out what God’s will and mission is for me now. Given the intensity of my spiritual life this year, there is clearly a mission, but I’m not ready for it yet. All I know is this: “Communion is the thing.”
This period came with a lot of turmoil, confusion, and pain for a whole host of reasons. In it all I’ve found myself meditating on how Christ forgives and how He moves past the horror we inflicted upon Him on the Cross and how we move past the pain we inflict upon one another. He doesn’t forget. When He appears in the Upper Room after the Resurrection He shows His disciples the wounds He received on the Cross, but He says Shalom, twice. Peace be with you.
He does not dwell at length on what transpired. He acknowledges it to them by showing them His wounds, but He extends His peace and then He gives His Apostles the ability to extend that very same peace and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession by the power of the office of Holy Orders. There is no vengeance. He knows they’ve betrayed and abandoned Him, but He extends His peace to them. He makes the healing move necessary back towards them even though He is the injured party. He seeks to forgive before forgiveness is even sought. He is quite literally the injured party as the Son of God and He in turn shows that He is forgiveness Itself.
This isn’t easy for us in our Fallen state. We want justice. We want people to actually care that they’ve hurt us. We want understanding. We want the charity we are entitled to as human beings. In reality, a lot of times, even in marriage, we don’t get it. We can’t make people care about the things they’ve done or even care about us as people. Since we are made imago Dei, we know at the deepest level that this is not how it is supposed to be, so we wrestle and fight back against those people who hurt us. Unfortunately, we also struggle with the urge to placate our wounded pride and ego. We battle the desire for vengeance, which comes from our sinful selves not the glory within.
The only way to stop this cycle is to move outwards. St. John of the Cross– whose feast day we celebrate today–said: “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” The answer to how we learn to forgive and still commune with others is self-emptying love. After one person hurt me considerably a few weeks ago, God immediately presented me with an opportunity to serve this person, to sacrifice for this person, and to share a gift with this person during a difficult time for them. I had a choice. Hold onto my pain and anger or give. Thanks be to God I chose to give. I chose to love. I don’t always, but all glory to God for any goodness within me!
It wasn’t easy at first, but it was precisely in my choosing to simply act in love towards this person that peace was restored and I no longer simply saw them as a person who had inflicted pain on me. The blindness that pain causes was lifted and I could see the person in front of me, not only my pain. It was my Shalom exhaled out and given to them. It didn’t fix what happened. Everything that has been done is done, but it halted the cycle of anger and division that erupted because of it. It healed the division that destroys communion. Yes, I still get twinges of pain from it, but because I chose to serve this person in love, it is much easier to accept that hurt when it arises and move past it in acceptance. Resentment towards others harms us and it harms others through our interactions with them.
We live in a time of great division in the Church. People are rightly hurting and angry about the sex abuse scandals, but the solution is not more division. The answer is communion grounded in charity. It means forgiving one another, even the horrific events that have transpired. Not because we turn a blind eye and not because we shouldn’t seek justice and truth, we must, but because the more we allow sinful anger, resentment, and fear to take the lead the more injustices will occur. If we aren’t careful we will run the risk innocent people getting hurt. If we aren’t careful, the division that the Enemy seeks to place between the clergy and the laity, the clergy and the clergy, and the laity and the laity will widen. This is about communion. How we respond together is going to shape the path forward.
We must demand the light be let into the dark places within the Church, but then we must be ready to work towards forgiveness. That blinding light will come with deep suffering for all of us as we confront those dark places, but it is a healing light. We must look to Our Lord’s example of how we are to forgive even the most egregious of sins. We murdered God and He came back in forgiveness. There is nothing another human being can commit that can pale in comparison to the horror and evil of this fact. Reform, justice, transparency, conversion, etc. are all needed, but we must be willing to come together in deeper communion in order to get there. These horrors should not cause us to scatter from one another. They must help bind us closer together in love of God and love of one another.
There is a great temptation to resort to an “us versus them” mentality. This happens when the laity places itself in opposition with the clergy and views them with suspicion and paints all priests with broad unjust strokes. It happens when priests treat the laity as the enemy or as clueless about the realities and demands of the ministerial priesthood. This is exactly the same thing as when the laity argues we shouldn’t listen to priests about marriage and sexuality because Latin Rite priests are celibate. This type of thinking by all parties is destructive and causes division within the Church.
The laity and the clergy are complimentary and an integral part of the Mystical Body. There are no Sacraments without the ministerial priesthood and there are no members offering sacrifice and praise with and through them without the laity. There is no bringing the world into conformation with the Holy Trinity without both the clergy and the laity working together. There is no us and them. We are one body in Christ. We are all on the path to holiness together. We need to stop making assumptions and judgments about one another and draw more closely together. We need to move outwards in charity towards one another. Authentic charity, not sentimentality, superficiality, or banality. Rugged individualism or entrenching will only make things worse. We need one another.
Christ has given us the answer in the communion we share with one another. That communion will require sacrifice, forgiveness, and true charity of all of us. It will mean setting aside our pain so that we can move towards one another. It’s not only what God requires of us, it is the very answer we are seeking. Our pain is healed by acting in self-emptying love and forgiveness. It is healed by choosing caritas over and over again. This isn’t sentimentality that makes us feel good about ourselves. This is the nitty gritty difficult path that we are actually called to. It requires everything from us. The darkness we are descending into as the Mystical Body will mean that we need to stay bound to one another guided by the healing Light of Christ. Communion is the very thing that God will use to strengthen, guide, and purify His Church during these dark days, but we must be willing to come together regardless of the costs.
Today I am linked up over at Jennifer Fulwiler’s Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes. Join us with your quick takes for the week here:
1. My husband and I bought our first home together in May of this year. We actually ended up in the town where our parish is located (long story as to why we drove 30 minutes to Mass…let’s just say “spirit of Vatican II” and leave it at that). My husband now commutes every day, but we think that it is worth it. We have been blessed with even more friendships through our church and have been able to get more involved. We have become good friends with a family with four girls. I teach junior high religious ed with the dad/husband. They are our board game friends. We have almost made Sunday dinner and games a ritual. We chat after Mass and then end up planning to play games and have dinner later that day. It has been a great blessing for us. When we lived in Boone, NC we had a couple we used to play Settlers of Cataan and pinochle with. Now we play all kinds of games with our friends from church, including a Star Trek version of Settlers (so awesome!).
2. I am learning to enjoy reading the same book over and over again to my toddler. One of my blog readers from CatholicMom.com pointed out that I need to foster a love of “nonsense” with my child. I thought about it and decided that she is right. I used to have a great imagination and I am working on my first novel, so I should be able to read Pinkalicious to my daughter and enjoy it, even if it is not one of my favorite books. Michaela is even “reading” to herself these days and that makes me so proud.
3. Conquering my coffee addiction is not going so well (she says while slurping down a peppermint mocha). Facebook was easy for me, compared to coffee. I think that some of my readers are misunderstanding my conquering addictions. Holiness is about letting go of the things we allow to control us, so that we are free to enjoy them in moderation. Facebook was leading me to sin. Coffee is an addiction, not something that I merely enjoy. God gave us these gifts as “pleasant inns” to borrow from CS Lewis. That means we enjoy them, but not allow them to consume us. If we read the works of the Saints, we will see how they call us to detach from those things that control us, which really means things that replace God in our lives. Today, I did not do as well as I wanted with the coffee, but I will try again tomorrow and by God’s grace be freed from my addiction, and hopefully some day just be able to enjoy coffee, rather than feel I “need” it. A priest told me that I needed to do this in Confession recently. No one “needs” coffee he said.
4. I got to go on an impromptu date with my husband last night. My awesome friend Christine (you can check her blog,, Domestic Vocation, out here) agreed to babysit our toddler with 2 hours notice. We had not been on a date in over two months. I am sure all of you parents understand. We had a nice dinner at a cafe downtown. We even walked down the street holding hands. Some day that will embarrass our daughter. I think when we kiss it already embarrasses her. There are such similarities between a two year old’s reactions and a teenager’s.
5. This past week our junior high religious ed class discussed vocations. Have you talked about vocations with your kids? The most important thing we discern is where God is calling us to. Not everyone is called to marriage, even though that is what our society tells us. We need to encourage vocations to the Priesthood or religious life. Here are two great videos to share with your kids about vocations. The first is for young men on the Priesthood and the second is for young women on becoming a sister or nun.
6. I have a confession to make. I do not make my pancakes from scratch. I think about it, but the box of multi-grain pancakes at Kroger is so much easier. I just add water, and then, whatever I want. This morning I made sweet potato pancakes with the leftover mashed sweet potatoes from dinner two nights ago. I followed the directions on the box and then added 3/4 of mashed sweet potato puree, and a dash of cinnamon. They were so good. I did not even use syrup. You can add whatever you want. One of my favorites is cottage cheese and blueberries. Give it a try! Sneak some healthy stuff into those pancakes for picky eaters.
7. This song is so beautiful. I hope it blesses you as you go into your weekend. My husband and I saw Casting Crowns in concert when we were dating. It was a great show.
There is something that is going on in many Catholic parishes that I find disturbing. It is something that I have noticed the more I get involved in the Church. It is an utter lack of Christian charity towards our priests by some members of the laity. Priests are attacked for pretty much everything that they do. They are scrutinized constantly. The Mass is too long, it is too short, the Homily is too long, the priest preached on orthodoxy, the priest preached on contraception, divorce, abortion, or gay marriage in line with what the Catholic Church actually teaches, there should be women on the altar during Holy Thursday even though it is a liturgical violation, the priest does not use gender neutral speech, the priest takes too long with the Eucharist, he uses the Eucharistic Prayers I or IV which are too long, he is asking too much of the altar servers, he is not friendly enough, he is too friendly, he is changing things, he is too young, he is too old. Are you getting the picture? If they are a Catholic priest, every aspect of them has been examined and criticized by someone. This is especially prevalent for the new orthodox priests coming out of the seminary.
There is a major lack of humility and charity by these folks. I myself have opened my mouth when I should not have and the priests were charitable enough to correct me. I am appalled by some of the things that are said and done to our priests. Are we Christians or not, because we are not acting like it. Here are some things that might help us to remember our place.
1. The Church is a MONARCHY, not a democracy. The priest is the head of his parish. He makes the ultimate decisions. He uses pastoral, liturgical, and other councils to guide his decisions, but when it comes down to ultimate authority, it is his. Vatican II did not change that. While Vatican II did work to end clericalism that had developed, much out of necessity (the majority of people were illiterate, giving huge responsibilities to priests), it still upholds the priest’s authority. As long as the priest is not doing anything heretical or heterodoxical, when he makes a choice, we must submit in obedience. Period. It’s a great spiritual lesson. We all must submit in obedience to God.
2. Humility. I don’t know about you, but I do not have the philosophical or theological education that an average parish priest undergoes in seminary. I have heard outright heresy from the pulpit and that should be addressed by the Bishop, but in the majority of cases, they know what they are talking about. Part of the reason I am Catholic is because I trust the Church’s 2000 years of history, tradition, writings, etc. to be the truth, because I am not the one who decides truth. If a priest preaches on something that you have chosen to be disobedient on, it is on you, not him. Contraception, abortion, gay marriage, IVF, embryonic stem cell research, divorce, etc. are all authentic doctrine of the Church that we are required to submit to. If you don’t like the priest preaching the Truth then you need to set up a meeting with him so YOU can come to the fullness of truth. Pray hard for conversion. You can yell or send nasty emails to him all you want, it is God’s law, and his job is to bring us to the fullness of truth.
3. He gave up his life for us. I told my junior high students this past Sunday, that being a priest is to give up one’s life to serve us. They are dedicated to bringing Christ in the Sacraments to us. They are our spiritual fathers. They deserve our respect, prayers, admiration, and love. I don’t care if they are 27 or 101, it does not matter. They have all laid down their lives for Christ and His Church. None of us have a right to be uncharitable or mean-spirited towards them.
4. Put yourself in his place. Rather than be responsible for his own small family, a priest has decided to be responsible for hundreds, even thousands of people. That is a tremendous burden and a tall order. They do their best to serve all of us. They cannot make everyone happy, which is why they rely on Church teaching and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). Chances are when the priest makes a final decision, it is based on research and study.
It is time for the bickering to stop. I know that this is difficult for us Fallen creatures, but part of the journey to holiness is to learn how to work together in Christian community. At the parish level, the priest is the head of our community, not you, and not me. The next time you are at a meeting, practice the virtues of humility and charity. They will get you much farther than any sin possibly could. And more than anything, say thank you to your priest. I cannot even tell you how unbelievably thankful I am for our priests. God bless all of our priests. St. John Vianney, pray for us..