Amidst Church Scandals, What Do We Do Now?

A Marian Helper named Sheila recently wrote to a Marian asking: Dear Father, I am not asking this question to bring up a hot-button issue, but Cardinal McCarrick has left somewhat of a pall over the priesthood and seminary formation. I know the 21st century was to be a battle, but this is a direct attack on priests and bishops. If the devil can somehow attack our priests and lessen faith in the hierarchy, then the Church becomes weak. How can we join together in prayer for this nightmare to be resolved? This is the time of mercy. How do we best proceed?

Here's our response:

Sheila,

That is a very important question, in light of both McCarrick and the grand jury report in Pennsylvania. Here are some things to consider:

1) The Church is founded by Jesus Christ, and, as such, has her foundation not in her own holiness, but in the holiness of Christ. What does that mean? It means that, whereas the Head of the Church is the Source of all holiness, the Church (the Body of Christ) always needs to receive that holiness - through faith, the Word of God, the Sacraments, etc. Christ desires to share that holiness with us, so that the Church - like Mary - would be holy and immaculate.

2) Saint Paul points out that there is no holiness apart from Christ; our justification comes solely from Him. What is highlighted in these scandals is, above all, members of the Church who attempted to live apart from Christ, to justify themselves and defend themselves. Moreover, cut off from Christ, they fell into grievous sins themselves and so harmed the Body of Christ. Like the Romans and Jews of the first century, these men have crucified the Body of Christ anew.

3) Our faith, nevertheless, is built upon the Paschal Mystery. We proclaim that - just at the moment when everything seemed to be going wrong - the Father intervened to bring about redemption and salvation for the entire world. Imagine what it would have been like to live in Jesus' time: Jesus did so much good, people expected Him to be the Messiah, and then He was crucified, largely at the conspiracy of the high priests and the scribes, those who should have received and recognized Him. But when everything seemed lost (see the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke, 24:13-35), Jesus was risen from the dead; His Body, dead on account of our sin, was filled with the Holy Spirit and brought to new life.

4) What Satan wants is for us to be scandalized and so lose our faith in God who has chosen the Church, not because she is holy, but because He is holy and wants to make her holy. In our faith, we can be assured that even when everything seems lost, the Father can bring forth new life. But what is needed for that to happen? How can such a terrible situation yield fruit?

5) Remember that farmers use manure to yield a rich harvest. So, the Lord pours forth His mercy when we recognize our misery. The members of the Church refused to recognize their misery; they did not call out for mercy. Now, the Bride of Christ, stripped naked like the woman in Ezekiel 23:10, is despised by all who look on. All the Church can do now is to plead, to beg for mercy. Now is the time for mercy, more than any other time. If there are such great evils, we ought not to lose faith or trust in God, but to run with greater confidence to Jesus and beg Him to pour out the Blood and Water even more!

6) Mary is our model in this darkness. She believed the words of the archangel, even when they seemed to be completely contradicted by her Son's Crucifixion. After all, did not Gabriel promise that Jesus would sit upon King David's throne and reign forever (see Lk 1:26-33)? Yet, a cross was not a throne in the mind of the Jew. In fact, it was the opposite, the most humiliating punishment possible. Yet, Mary still believed; she waited, and she trusted. She hoped against all hope, and her faith has been rewarded: She now shares in her Son's glory.

7) So, too, now, Our Lady opens her sorrowful, Immaculate Heart to us. How much she weeps over the Body of her Son, the Church - wounded, dead, just as it was at Calvary. But she knows, too, that as we call forth for mercy, the Father is not indifferent. In the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, we beg for the Father to have mercy "for the sake of His Sorrowful Passion." That is, we beg the Father to look upon the broken Body of His Son, the Church, and to pour forth mercy - the Holy Spirit - to bring that Body back to life, just as He did in the Resurrection. But we, the Body, must beg for it. God created us without us, but He does not save us without us, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, quoting from St. Augustine (see Catechism, 1847).

8) Now is the time to repeat evermore: "Jesus, I trust in You." Our trust is, first of all, not in bishops and priests, but in Jesus, and we trust in our bishops and priests only insofar as they are channels of His holiness. We can trust that they convey the grace of Christ to us in the Sacraments, because Jesus promised this gift to the Church, and even the sins of the clergy cannot prevent the saving grace of His merciful love from flowing to us through their sacramental ministry. We can trust that when they teach in ecumenical council and in accord with the papal Magisterium, then they guard and proclaim the true faith infallibly, God's true revelation of His love for us. Again, this comes from the promise by Jesus of the Holy Spirit to the Church: Even the sins of the clergy cannot undermine this. But Jesus is also meant to be present in our bishops and priests in holiness; just like the rest of us, they need to receive the graces that the Source of holiness, Jesus Christ, makes available to His Church through Word and Sacrament. And when they fail to do so, it is heartbreaking to the faithful and a scandal to the faithless - and so we beg for mercy.

We offer up our sufferings and penances, as Our Lady requested at Fatima. This is a time for conversion, and it begins, above all, with you and with me. To simply point to the problem "out there" is to miss the reality that all of us are part of this mystery of iniquity and sin. How will it stop? Not with new plans alone, but with the Holy Spirit poured forth anew on the Body of Christ. That means each of us converting and being purified of all sin - so that we may be immaculate. That is the goal of this: The Father is preparing the Bride for the Second Coming, but she must be immaculate for Jesus to come. So, may we not lose hope, but see this as a call to deep conversion. As Mother Teresa responded to someone who asked: "What needs to change in the Church?" The answer: "You and me." And I'd add to that a quote from St. Catherine of Siena: "Be who you are meant to be, and you will set the world ablaze." Indeed, "The crisis of our times is a crisis of saints," St. John Paul II said. That crisis ends when we begin to trust and convert each and every day.

I pray and hope that this makes sense. Let us all unite in pleading for His mercy, for the Church consists of the people of God who have sinned and who have experienced His great and tender mercy.

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