Our spiritual response to scandals and abuses
September 17, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – “It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come” (Lk 17:1). “In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
In recent months, nothing has been more talked about in connection with the Catholic Church than that bitter, unspeakably sad two-syllable word, scandal. It is almost as if the world, the flesh, and the devil, of whom the secular media are the ready mouthpiece, were rejoicing in full choir that they have been able to draw the attention of so many people away from Christ our King, exalted upon the Cross, towards the muddy depths of human weakness and sin – including not only the reeking sins of lower clergy but also the sins of ambition, mendacity, and cowardice on the part of bishops.
Contrary to what some popes may say on their bad days, we should not be ignoring accusations of episcopal evil as if they were from the devil. Too many chancery offices have tried the approach of whistling in the dark and pretending that nothing’s really the matter; it’s just as unchristian as frolicking in the mud of calumny or detraction.
I believe, however, that we must look at the evils around us and within us peripherally, in the light of the Cross. Our Lord Jesus Christ alone can give us the strength to face evils of this magnitude and overcome them. In His truth we see our sins; in His love we see our liberation; in His grace we find our constant help. He is the only one who can bring any of us to true repentance for our sins and make us whole again. This, then, is how we know we are dealing with scandals in a Christian way: when we think to pray for a bishop’s or cardinal’s repentance and salvation, in addition to demanding that justice be done in the Church.
Here is something that needs to be said to all Christians, especially those whose faith is wavering on account of scandals: the fundamental miracle or miraculousness of the Catholic Church is not her perfection, but her existence.
It is true that Holy Mother Church shows us countless models of supreme holiness in the saints, but they are revelations of what the Church is called and guaranteed to be in her final state, not a democratic cross-section of what she actually is. What is astonishing is the fact that such a thing as the Church even exists in the fallen world – a spiritual temple in which God’s eternal life is shared with man, where God is made truly ours by sanctifying grace, where the Lamb of God is fed to us in the Eucharist. In this, there is cause enough for a hundred or a thousand lifetimes of wonder. Evil tarnishes and diminishes the Church in our midst, but it can never obliterate the miracle of her existence or make the gifts she offers to mankind any less wondrous and glorious than they are.
“No man has ever spoken as this man has spoken,” the Gospel says of Jesus (Jn 7:46). I have often said to my students, I am a Christian because I am in love with Jesus Christ, “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20); and I am Roman Catholic because there is no other way of being sure to possess Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life except by belonging to the community He founded, making use of all the means of salvation He entrusted to it.
Hence, when I see the sins within me, and I see the corruption around me, even all the way to the top of the Church’s hierarchy, I say with Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). No one can change those words of His, nor the promise He backs up with His death and resurrection, nor the grace He gives to the brokenhearted. This is what brings me peace and joy, if I only pause for a moment and call to mind what Jesus has done and is doing for me and for so many others who strive to follow Him.
Only if I become a saint will I make a difference to anyone else inside or outside the Church; and the only way to become a saint is to become one with Jesus on the Cross. We stand beneath the Cross with Mary and John, at the bleakest moment, when all hope seems lost, when Christ is dying in agony and gives up his last breath, and the storm hits. Even after the resurrection, the Church sojourning in time never leaves the foot of the Cross. The bride has to suffer all that her bridegroom suffered, if she is going to share fully in the victory He won.