Like many Catholics I have been (pick all that apply: hurt / angry / seething / pissed / apoplectic / embarrassed / ashamed / in tears) over all that has transpired and come to light in the Catholic Church since the summer of 2018. This latest round of shame after the “long Lent” of 2002 has been the final straw for many as they exited the Church. I, too, had thoughts for a brief moment of doing the same.
In the end I knew I would stay. I endured weeks and months of experiencing all of the emotions I listed above and then some, but I knew. I knew just as Peter did in the passage below:
After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68)
Holy Mother Church is just that. My mother. As I described to the priest who heard my confession two weeks ago on retreat if someone attacks and abuses my mom there’s no way I would abandon her. I will stay by her side and fight for her and against those who are the cause of her pain.
Surrender is for cowards. It is the easy path, and many have chosen to join the culture at large in this regard. We all have to choose our own path. Mine is to stay and fight. We were never promised this would be easy. In fact Christ warned us. And are we not the Church Militant? Of course we fight.
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Before I left the confessional the priest advised me to read Letter to a Suffering Church by Bishop Robert Barron. This priest, and many of his brother priests, endured those same emotions I listed, and he told me that this short booklet of just over a hundred pages had been a help and comfort to him. He thought I might benefit from it as well, and I’m grateful to him for directing me towards it. The book is available on Amazon here. There is also a website for the book that includes more resources and a timeline of the scandals. [sufferingchurchbook.com]
Below are some of the passages I underlined while reading this booklet. They speak to my reasons for remaining.
Eighteen hundred years after Paul, John Henry Newman, one of the most perceptive theological minds in the tradition, made this rather startling and sweeping observation: “The whole course of Christianity…is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing…Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of truth dim, its adherents scattered. The cause of Christ is ever in its last agony.” [p.42]
In reference to the Scripture I referenced above from John 6:66-68:
…if you have found in Jesus everlasting life, salvation, the answer to the deepest longing of your heart, then no matter how difficult things become, and no matter how many of your fellows might drift away, you must stay. [pp.57-58]
We do indeed have to look hard at the wickedness in the Church today; but we also have to be clear-eyed about the beauty and veracity and holiness on offer in that same Church. The vessels are all fragile and many of them are downright broken; but we don’t stay because of the vessels. We stay because of the treasure. [p.59]
Bishop Barron continues:
…there is simply never a good reason to leave the Church. Never. Good reasons to criticize Church people? Plenty. Legitimate reasons to be angry with corruption, stupidity, careerism, cruelty, greed, and sexual misconduct on the part of leaders of the Church? You bet. But grounds for turning away from the grace of Christ in which eternal life is found? No. Never, under any circumstances. [pp.59-60]
In the end, we are not Catholics because our leaders are flawless, but because we find the claims of Catholicism both compelling and beautiful. We are Catholics because the Church speaks of the Trinitarian God whose very nature is love; of Jesus the Lord, crucified and risen from the dead; of the Holy Spirit, who inspires the followers of Christ up and down the ages; of the sacraments, which convey the Christ-life to us; and of the saints, who are our friends in the spiritual order. This is the treasure; this is why we stay. [p.78]
This evil must be confronted, defeated and purged.
The gates of hell shall not prevail. (Matthew 16:18)