Sometimes, Chastisement is a Mercy

[Jesus said,] "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" (Mt 18:6-7)

This has been a hard summer.

The massive scandals in Chile, where all the bishops tendered their resignations to Pope Francis.

The scandal in Honduras, both financial and sexual.

The many purported acts of abuse and the substantiated ones perpetrated by the former Cardinal McCarrick.

And now the Pennsylvania grand jury report on the Church's handling (or, in all too many cases, mishandling) of sexual abuse, rape, harassment, and other misconduct on the part of clergy and religious.

And still the scandals roll on, with no clear end in sight.

It's enough to tempt the most faithful among us to doubt, or to flee the Church for seemingly safer havens. The barque, the ship of Peter, seems to be in a dreadful state, a state of our own making. The crew seems to have drilled holes in the sides; the bilge pumps have been sabotaged and rendered inoperable; and some parts of the craft may even be on fire. We're taking on water, and who is ready to even begin to attempt a repair?

Yet, once again, we must be reminded that this boat does not float because of merely human strength, ingenuity, or even holiness. The Church doesn't survive from era to era because of the brilliance or the sanctity of its leaders, though thank God when we are granted geniuses or saints at the helm. The Church has not endured 2,000 years of hard usage, of civilizations collapsing about her, of scandal in the clergy, of sin and perfidy amongst her members, all because of the natural gifts of human beings.

The Church is not the Bride of Christ because we are worthy on our own merits.

No. All of lasting value, life, and strength in the Body of Christ comes through grace, through the inspiration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, through the Cross of Christ, through the love and gift of the Father. All that is good in us comes from God; all that is misery comes from man. Our Lord taught St. Faustina that truth in a particularly memorable way, asking her for the gift of what was truly hers to give: her misery; that is, her sinfulness and her miserable state as a concupiscent, weak, tempted human being (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1315).

The current scandals are, in some sense, the continuation of the scandalous sinfulness and weakness of the clergy recorded in the Gospels. Going by the example of the apostles in the Gospels, 100 percent of the clergy will at some point run from Christ and avoid sharing His suffering. At least one in 12 will flatly deny knowing Him, like Peter. At least one in 12 will be filled with the devil and betray Him, like Judas. And only one in 12 will be there at the foot of His Cross, like John.

Our faith, from the beginning of the Church, has needed to be in Christ, not in the personal perfection of His apostles, His bishops, His priests, or His deacons. Our faith needs to rest on the firm foundations of Jesus, the Word of God. We need to trust abidingly in Divine Revelation, in Scripture and Tradition transmitted through the teaching Magisterium of the Church. We need to listen closely to those witnesses, and to note that infallibility (the guarantee that their teaching is free from error) is given to our Church's leaders on very limited, specific occasions. We have no guarantee of their impeccability (their sinlessness).

Now, we owe our spiritual fathers honor, just as we owe our natural parents honor. Abusive parents, both physical and spiritual, can certainly forfeit that honor to a certain extent. We don't need to put ourselves in harm's way again and again in the name of obedience to the commandment. But we do need to love our parents. We do need to pray for them. We do need to seek their welfare, their salvation.

As has become all too clear through scandal after scandal, through abusive relationship after abusive relationship, victimization after victimization, merely keeping silence about abuse isn't really an answer. Merely enduring abuse means that others may also fall victim. Seeking to preserve the good name and reputation of the family, of the Church, at all costs means the costs mount far higher than we, of our own strength, can possibly begin to pay. Silence has consistently protected the abuser, not the abused. It has multiplied victims past decency, justice, or mercy.

Silence is ending now in the Church and in society. We can and we must love our parents, and we must pray for them. But in some families, love looks like truth-telling, even if that means the police come and take our parents away. In some families, love of neighbor means protecting anyone else from being hurt as we have. In some families, a reputation must be destroyed, lest the little ones be left in the care of wolves in sheep's clothing (see Mt 7:15; see also 2 Pt 2). In some families, the salvation of the abusers demands seemingly harsh remedies, for after all, "the salvation of souls ... must always be the supreme law in the Church" (Canon 1752).

So what can we do in the face of the current tide of scandal?

First, thank God that the truth is finally coming out. A wound that festers and is infected must be lanced. There can be no healing without sunlight, without the cleansing of the infection.

Secondly, pray and fast. There are clearly demons to be driven out, and these most likely will not go out without prayer and fasting (see Mt 17:21). Pray for the abusers and the victims, that God's will be done. Pray for healing and strength for those hurt. Pray especially for all those whose faith has been damaged or destroyed by the torrent of serious sins being unveiled. Offer up Rosaries and Divine Mercy Chaplets, asking that God's will be done by the bishops and religious superiors, the media, and the civil authorities at this crucial hour, and that hearts be transformed so that truth and love win out. Ask Our Lady's intercession, especially under the titles "Mother of the Church" and "Mother of God of Priests" (see Diary, 1585). Ask for St. Joseph's intercession, especially under the titles "Universal Patron of the Church" and "Terror of Demons."

Thirdly, make your concerns known. Let your shepherds hear from you, sharing with them in honesty and in love what you see, how you feel, and where you hope the Church goes from here. Don't assume that what's obvious to you is obvious to them. At the same time, tell the truth in love, always. Remember we are to pray for our enemies, as well as our friends; if that's the case, then there's no room for hate of persons in Christian hearts, even as we are encouraged to hate sin and corruption. As you challenge, make sure you also pray and that you also love - that you choose to desire the good for the person whom you are addressing, and those about whom you are writing. And remember to also write to the bishops when bishops, priests, and religious do the right thing. For instance, since the 2002 implementation of the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, there's been a dramatic decline in the number of contemporary cases of sex abuse of minors being reported, and generally, swift action being taken when any such reports do emerge. Further, the McCarrick scandal only broke because the Archdiocese of New York followed their process for reviewing a claim of abuse of a minor, communicated with the Holy See, found that claim credible and substantiated, and went public in spite of the fact that the cleric involved was a cardinal. As a result of their actions, Archbishop McCarrick has been suspended from ministry, is facing a canonical trial, and resigned from the college of cardinals. All too frequently, people only write when they're mad. Let virtue also receive a reward.

Fourthly, make acts of reparation for the sins of our fathers in the faith, for all those bishops and priests who have sinned. Just as Job offered sacrifices of atonement for the sins of his children (see Job 1:5) and Noah's sons drew a cloth over the nakedness of their drunken father (Gen 9:21, 23), so now let us offer prayers, fasting, and almsgiving in atonement for the sins of our leaders. Let us beg Heaven for their conversion and repentance, asking God for the grace of the Holy Spirit to transform hardened hearts and heal the grievous wounds caused by the sins of far, far too many shepherds of the Church.

And finally, live your life in Christ and in the Spirit all the more. Do the works of mercy all the more, both because the need has never been greater as well as because the Church must now speak with a still, small voice, manifesting the Gospel more with deeds than with words. Now, love alone is credible. Our words must be primarily confessing the sins of the Church, for a time, and our lives must be rich with the truth lived in love. Now more than ever, the words of Bl. Paul VI ring true: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).

Let us pray for mercy for the Church in this hour, not forgetting, as the great biblical theologian Dr. Scott Hahn has taught repeatedly, that the mercy of God manifested in the Old Testament was again and again chastisement; that Divine Mercy means that sin is rebuked and has consequences. How great is the wrath of God when He allows a soul to walk swiftly down the smooth path to damnation without trial or tribulation to remind them that they are dust, and to dust they shall return! How great is the mercy of God when He sends prophets to His people to call us back again to the ways of the Lord! How great is the mercy of God when sin is punished and virtue rewarded in this life; when souls on the brink of hell encounter the Cross, and so are turned to repentance, and are saved!

Let us beg mercy on the world and on the Church; let us offer reparation and atonement for our sins, and for those of the whole world. Let us continue in our devotion to the Divine Mercy, for nothing has changed except our awareness of the sins of others. Our prayers and our works have been responding to this crisis the whole time, whether we knew it or not, and perhaps this apokalypsis, this unveiling of the sins of the Church, is in some part an answer to our prayers.

Let us pray that Our Lady's Immaculate Heart will swiftly triumph, and that her prophetic words be once again fulfilled in our lifetime:

His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty (Lk 1:50-53).


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