Don’t just do something – be.

I just returned from the Catholic Leadership Conference — or, as I like to call it, “the best three days of the year.”

In the midst of the current crisis in the Church, it was truly inspiring to spend several days with holy, committed lay leaders who are ready to do whatever we can to heal the broken body of Christ.

And boy, did it inspire me.  We talked about what we’re going to do, together and separately.  We talked about “swinging for the fences,” about winning souls for Christ.  I left all fired up and raring to go do something.

I suspect that I am not alone in this.  Those of us who love God, or at least profess to, are always thinking about the great things we’re going to do for him.  We’ll bring a scorecard to show him on Judgment Day.  We preached.  We served.  We converted.  By golly, we did a whole lot of stuff!!

But then, a little voice inside asks me, “But what are you going to be?”

It has become increasingly apparent to me that this crisis was brought on in no small part by men on many levels who may have, at some point, had good intentions.  Maybe there was a time when some of them actually wanted to do good for the Church or for the world.  Maybe not.  But either way, it’s clear that they were, in the end, not holy men.  Some of them did unspeakably horrible things.  Others made very poor decisions in the wake of those unspeakable things.  Many, in myriad ways, placed power and prestige over the good of the faithful.

Not the actions of a truly holy man.

So, if the lack of holiness led to the problem, what do you suppose the solution would be?

I think that, above and before all, the solution is for all of us to become holier.

Remember why Christ came.  It wasn’t to tell us to do stuff.  Of course, He did tell us to do stuff.  And to avoid doing other stuff.  But all of that was to flow out of what were to become. In him, we become new creations.  New men.  New wine that won’t fit in old wineskins.  We are to be changed, converted.  We are to decrease while he increases in us.

It’s those “New Creations” he wants out there doing things.  Holy, converted men and women who hear his voice, answer his call, and bring his love into the world.

I don’t know about you, but on my own, I am capable of achieving very little.  And even less am I capable of discerning what I should be doing.  What will be most effective.  Where my talents can do the most good.

When it comes to this realm, he knows what is best, far better than I do.

He can’t operate in us if our agendas and our egos keep getting in the way.  He needs us to be committed to him, profoundly changed, ready to be led by the One who is the source of all true healing.

Fortunately, for me and for the world, the Catholic leaders I was with last week are those people.  They are humble.  They are holy.  They are completely “sold out” for Christ.  These are the men and women we want swinging for the fences, acting on his prompting, doing their part to restore his Church.

As for me, I’m doing my best to keep up.  Trying to grow in holiness, trying to listen to his voice.

How do we do that?  How do we grow closer to Christ?  How to we let him convert us?  Through prayer.  Through the sacraments — especially confession and the Eucharist.  Through the Mass.  Through reading about the lives of other men and women who were on fire for him — namely, the saints.  Through studying the Word and getting to know the One who loves us most, whose Spirit brings us to new life. And through surrendering to him.

So, if you’ve been sitting around wondering what you can do for the Church in the midst of this crisis — or even if you haven’t — how about starting there?  Work on growing in holiness, on really submitting your life to him and letting him convert you on a deeper level.

And then hold on tight, because he will undoubtedly take you on the ride of your life.

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA