By: Camille Carloss Simon
We are in a very trying time in the Church. Potentially, this is a time to purge and purify. Certainly, it is a time to pray and fast. The current abuse scandal and subsequent allegations of cover-up ascending to the highest level of the Church has left most Catholics in a state of anger and confusion. What shall we do?
Upon my most recent confession and examination of conscience, I came across the seven spiritual works of mercy. I think, in general, these works may be more easily forgotten and overshadowed by their twin, the corporal works. As I remind myself of these works and reread them, I was struck by the fact that every single one of these works has a place for us at this time in the Church. Though difficult, at best, and despicable, at worst, this time gives us opportunity for holiness, for reparation, and for these spiritual works.
Counsel the doubtful.
This can very much be a time where it is necessary to tread lightly. For many this can be a time of doubt. If this really the true Church, founded by Christ? How can it be so when there is so much corruption? What is the meaning of hierarchy? What happens now? The list goes on and on. For some, for those on the fringes and already skeptical, this can be the final straw. For others this can be a serious impediment questioning leaving the faith. For this reason we must counsel the doubtful. We must call the faithful to more prayer and fasting, especially now in this dark time. We must remind the faithful that we do believe this is the true Church, founded by Jesus Christ, Himself (just ask Siri who founded the Catholic Church). We believe and it’s why we stay. If this church were created by a mere fallible human, we should have all left by now. We ought know that it will probably only get worse before it gets better, but that this will be a great transformation and cleansing that is well needed. This is a time where we need light the most, where we need faith and hope to lead us to charity. We must be vigilant. We cannot let the devil win this fight. The devil wants to lead us away from virtue, especially the greatest virtue of charity- he does this by trying our faith and our hope and leading us toward doubt.
Instruct the Ignorant
The scandal definitely provided a news-overload and I know myself, and many Catholics were left scrolling and scrolling as the story unfolded. This quickly began to overwhelm me, so I resigned myself to read only one thing about the scandal per day (if any). But some Catholics are left in a whirlwind of who to follow and, also, some may be confused as to what exactly happened. It is important for us to be knowledgeable about the current situations of our Church, even of the divisions and different perspectives, while avoiding the vice of curiositas and gorging on information. Some are more “in-the-know” than others. Those who are have the duty to inform those who are confused, especially if those ignorant of the situations seek them out. I am not saying we need to all post articles, start engaging in Facebook wars, or seek people out to tell them the ills of the Church. I am saying to be knowledgeable as you are able and as your state in life or work allows and when the ignorant need instructing, you will be available to do so.
Admonish the Sinners
Often misconstrued as “judging,” this great and important spiritual work may be forgotten or feared. It is true that we, as fellow sinners, are not to judge- that is for the Lord to do at the time of a person’s death or at the end of the world. As Catholics, we have been given a beautiful and rich tradition, including moral law. This is something to be embraced and appreciated, not feared.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines admonish as to “reprimand firmly.” (1) When we know of someone, especially one close to us, engaging in sinful behavior, it is our duty to admonish them. This may sound harsh, but let’s put this in perspective: what is more important- an awkward and humbling encounter, potentially even a loss of friendship or the loss of your friends soul and potentially your own, by accompanying them in silence. We must do all this in love, of course, but love means willing the good of another- not the warm fuzzies. Love means calling out those who are not acting in line with what they profess- for the good of their souls. Love is not engaging in political correctness to appease the masses.
Older definitions of admonish are “Advise or urge (someone) earnestly” and “Warn (someone) of something to be avoided.” (1) I can’t help but think of the issue many are facing at this time in the Church, where agenda sometimes comes before Christ and many are afraid to lead their sheep. Instead, some let the sheep take over. Under the guise of being “pastoral,” some priests may act leniently, caring more about their image and likeableness than their flock. Many times, vagueness trumps clarity and many are left confused and led astray. Yet, Jesus was very clear with His words.
Jesus said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” John 6:60. Though He was speaking about the Eucharist, most of Jesus’ sayings and teachings are difficult and go against our sinful selves. These are difficult, but that does not detract from them. We are in such a grand mess partially because sinful actions were not admonished. Those who knew cared more about the Church’s image than the victims. Those who covered up abuse could have admonished these priests; instead, they let a generation of faithful be abused and a generation of priests continue in sin and corruption.
Comfort the Afflicted
Certainly this abuse scandal has left a great many afflicted- the Philadelphia grand jury report alone counted upwards of a thousand victims. We are in the aftermath of a terrible storm where pain and affliction surround us. If we know those personally affected we are called to comfort them, as fit. Perhaps that means listening to their stories, simply sitting with them, or assisting them to get help and justice. If we do not know a person first hand, many of the lay faithful are afflicted in their hearts and spirit. There are also many good priests and seminarians who are afflicted during this time. Imagine those faithful and holy priests who walk around in their cassocks and collars who are now an immediate target for all those hurting and confused. I imagine this is one of the most difficult times to be a priest. It is certainly a difficult time to be a member of the laity.
I know the night the Vigano testimony came forth, I lay in my bed with tears streaming down my face. I was in shock, filled with confusion and disbelief. I was afflicted for the hurting church. I would say the majority of the lay faithful feel a similar affliction. That night my husband comforted me with words of hope. We all, at least, have that to offer.
This is big and difficult. Righteous anger has its place, but brooding, resentment, and hatred do not. These offenses are so deep and despicable that it may be very very difficult to forgive, especially for those who suffered abuse. Even for the majority sitting back, watching this unfold, it is difficult to forgive abusers and, perhaps, more difficult to forgive the church hierarchy and all those who aided and continued this abuse by covering up. It is difficult to forgive those claiming “transparency” with little tangible evidence to support the promise. There are a lot of offenses at hand right now- and these aren’t small offenses. Nevertheless, we are called to forgive and we must give our anger and pain to the Lord, so He can help us move forward and use our righteous anger for good.
Bear Wrongs Patiently
I honestly don’t even want to write on this spiritual work. For some reason this one seems the most frustrating in light of this scandal. For some reason, to me, patience seems even worse than forgiveness. In pain, I want to question, “isn’t 40+ years enough patience?” It seems that these wrongs have been borne too patiently. It seems that the response from bishops and the Vatican have been too patient.
Yet, this is what we were instructed to do and it is what Jesus did. Philip Kosloski writes, “This spiritual work of mercy received its purest expression in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ . . . ‘Bearing wrongs patiently’ is not easy. You could say that it is not even “human” to do so. It goes against every fiber of our fallen nature. That is why when someone hurts us we must not act as a “human,” but follow the example of God incarnate.” (2) In the wake of such a lengthy scandal, patience seems to be the last thing we should will, but we must trust the Lord and His timing. We bear this wrong patiently, though we need not wait another 40 years before justice is brought. Though we must be peaceable, we still must act and continue to demand answers from our church. We mus and exhort them to be a little less patient, as we are growing ever impatient. Despite our concupiscence, we must rely on ways of the Lord and not our sinful, fallen nature: “In the same way that water extinguishes a raging fire, only humility, patience and mercy can destroy the effects of sin.” (2)
Pray for the Living and the Dead
Finally, is what has been requested all along: prayer. Specifically, we must pray for people involved- all of them. We must pray for the abused, of course, but we must also pray for the abusers. Some of the accused abusive priests have died- we must pray for their souls. Many are still alive and seemingly unaffected by the outrage of the faithful- we must pray for them, too. For the abusers, living and dead, we pray for the Lord’s mercy and justice, as they must accompany one another. As St. Thomas Aquinas remarks, “Justice without mercy is cruelty. Mercy without justice is the mother of all dissolution.”
We hope and pray that they convert and repent. We, of course, must also pray and fast for the abused. So many were robbed of so much- innocence, childhood, trust, their Catholic faith, and so much more. This spiderweb of abuse that affected so many, infiltrated the seminary, allowed for the abuse to continue and spread, created more abusers, likely killed some vocations to the priesthood, and even caused some to take (or attempt to take) their own lives. There is so much to clean up and so much to heal from. So many prayers are needed.
I must add that I am no expert. I do not pretend to be one. I have read some articles and testimonies and I have watched some news. I try to inform myself, while not going overboard. At the end of the day, I am simply a faithful Catholic who, like many, is trying to make sense of what seems to be complete catastrophe- the church crumbling before my eyes. I am trying to stay hopeful and not fall into despair, which is oh, so tempting, at the moment. I was surprised when I read through the list of spiritual works because I did feel that they could be of much help during this time. I hope some of them can offer aid in prayer or processing at this time. In closing, I present two quotes. The first is from Father Gary Thomas, an exorcist: “Prayer, fasting and the sacraments are efficacious, but it cannot be without the intentionality of action that comes out of prayer. We want prayer to change us and we are praying for a change in the whole Church, all the way up. And we are also praying for the victims who have gone through decades of terrible trauma.” (3)
We are in very deep and daunting waters at the moment, but this excerpt of a homily from St. John Chrysostom filled me with hope and I hope it can do the same for you in this relevant time:
Thank you and may the Lord bless you.
St. Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis.