By Erin Daly
Like many Catholics, my heart has been broken and re-broken in the last year as revelation after revelation of abuse, cover-up, and selfish power-grabs from priests and bishops has come to light, beginning with McCarrick and continuing with the Pennsylvania report and more. The thing that chilled me to my core about the whole thing was that these abusive priests had profoundly perverted their priesthood and wounded the Heart of the One they promised to imitate. These were supposed to be men after Jesus’ own Heart−men of prayer, chastity, humility, compassion, and self-giving, self-forgetting love. And they soiled that. They made a mockery of their vocation, as did the cowardly priests and bishops who covered for their crimes.
My anger was rekindled months later when the crisis got personal. I spent two years serving Bishop Michael Bransfield’s diocese, Wheeling-Charleston. I didn’t get much of a sense of what kind of man he was when I was there, but I never could have guessed how wicked he was. Bransfield was entrusted with a precious gift−the fatherhood of an entire state of Catholics. And he squandered it. He spat in the face of the Lord he professed with his lips to serve.
All of these things sent me into tailspins of rage and disbelief when they came to light. I work at a parish and I don’t normally disclose the state of my soul to my boss (the pastor), but I shut myself in his office a few times to ask how to keep my wits about me. Anger isn’t an inappropriate response to such a crisis, but I knew that letting it fester was killing my soul.
I don’t profess to have all the answers to how the laity can react in such a time as this. But I think I’ve figured a few things out, at least.
For one thing, we certainly can’t do nothing, but I think crises like this should cause us to step back and evaluate what it means to DO something. Many of us have been made to feel like we have to go out there and change the world. Marches, hashtag activism, and other forms of “speaking up” have become preferred methods of “doing something” lately. This activist mindset has seeped into our Church, too, but I think both of those methods of “doing something,” of both relentless activity and things like marches and hashtag activism, fall short. Quite simply, not all of us are being called to be visible movers and shakers in this fight−advocating for victims, working with dioceses, etc. If we do something just for the sake of DOING something, we risk burning out, or wrongly believing that solving this crisis depends on us alone. And while marches, hashtag activism, and “speaking up” can raise awareness, after awhile, it starts to become nothing more than noise and empty virtue-signaling. Please don’t hear me say that our bishops and our wider Church don’t need to hear the laity’s voice in this crisis−they do! But our role in this crisis must go deeper.
By that I mean we have got to commit to personal holiness of life. It’s what my former bishop, the late Robert Morlino, emphasized in his responses to the recent crises. It’s something my pastor, a fiery Dominican, preaches regularly. Right now the Church needs people committed to becoming saints. It needs our voices, sure. It needs people who can step into the trenches of this fight by their work. But these things aren’t necessarily what makes one a saint.
We become saints by living the ordinary stuff of our ordinary lives extraordinarily well, by being faithful to the demands of our state in life. Greatness doesn’t mean reaching for something that God isn’t asking of you. It’s knowing what God IS asking of you and doing it to the best of your ability.
Whatever your state is−spouse, parent, friend, roommate−strive for excellence in that. Be attentive to your home life. If you work, do your work with the care and excellence it deserves. Care for the poor as you are able. Love the people that God puts in front of you. And give your best to God, too, of course. Yes, go to Mass every Sunday. But go beyond that, too. Establish a prayer routine that works for you. If nothing else, pray a Morning Offering and a nightly examen every day without fail. Offer something each day for the Church and for victims of clerical sex abuse−a rosary, a decade of the rosary, a Divine Mercy Chaplet, skipping a meal, skipping your snooze alarm, forgoing cream and sugar in your coffee. Learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and pray one or more of the Hours a day, in union with the Church and for the intention of its healing. Abstain from meat on Fridays if your health allows it−it’s still the preferred Friday penance in the Church. If you can, go to Mass at least once a week outside of Sundays and Holy Days. If you can, commit to some prayer time in front of the Blessed Sacrament each week. If you don’t have one, consider finding a spiritual director to help you in your quest for holiness.
This crisis is a spiritual crisis and human solutions like added “policies and procedures” can only do so much to curb it. It needs to be fought with spiritual weapons. And we can all contribute to that. Yes, there are practicalities that need to be sorted out, but even if we’re not the ones doing that work, we can all aid those efforts by our prayers, sacrifices, and faithfulness.
Bishop Robert Barron calls this crisis the devil’s masterpiece. He’s using it to attack not just priests, but the souls of the faithful by tempting them to despair and to leaving the Church. And we can’t let him win us over. So yes, be angry. Be heartbroken. But don’t stay there. Give your broken heart to Jesus, the Healer of hearts. And then ask Him for the grace to be holy in the midst of a profound lack of holiness. In doing so, we refuse to give the Evil One what he wants, and we sanctify ourselves and the Church.
Stay and fight in your own way. Even if no one else sees it, even if in the eyes of the world it doesn’t look like you’re doing anything. Stay and fight with the assurance of the Lord’s victory.