Faith: the antidote to despair

Archbishop Aquila

“The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us,” St. John Chrysostom once preached. “But we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.” Many of us need to hear such words in these trying times, when we are torn apart by the sins committed against innocent children and teenagers, and also confronted with the temptation to despair.

On the recently launched Promise website, in my most recent column, and in several other writings, I have focused on what the Church in northern Colorado is continuing to do to prevent the abuse of minors in the archdiocese. That work is essential and must continue to be carried out with constant vigilance. But there is another effort that is important for the Church to undertake during these turbulent times. We must remember and live in the truth that “the boat of Jesus” cannot sink, even if it appears to be in peril.

Certainly, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which we celebrated on Sept. 14, gives us some insights into enduring difficulties with faith. As he faced the prospect of his death in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus declared, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). We know that shortly after this, Jesus, trusting in the Father, allowed himself to be betrayed by Judas and eventually to be crucified. Human nature tends to recoil from suffering, but enlightened by God’s grace, it can strengthen and deepen our faith when chosen out of love.

I think, too, of the time when Jesus told the disciples to cross the lake and they were overcome by a storm that made the waves so high that they filled the boat with water, endangering everyone in the boat. The disciples “went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’” (Lk. 8: 24-25).

Jesus calls us to ask for the gift of deeper faith in times like these, not to despair. This is not an easy teaching of Christ’s, but it is essential. Jesus does not invoke the strength of the ship’s construction or the closeness of the shore to assure the disciples. No, he points them to their faith, to his saving power as the place to find their security. Similarly, our faith is not true because of the strength of its institutions, the members of the hierarchy, priests or lay people. Our faith is in Jesus Christ and the saving power of his Cross. He is the cornerstone of our faith!

Reflecting on the Cross, St. Andrew of Crete stated, “Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.”

The Church is going through a period of intense purification, and during this difficult time, it is important for us to place our hope in the right place — in Jesus Christ and his eternal sacrifice for us. “The cross,” in St. Andrew of Crete’s words, “is honorable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.”

Only Jesus can heal the wounds of those sexually abused, only Jesus can bring the Church to what she is meant to be, and only Jesus can make both clergy and laity holy. In our encounter with Jesus, he desires each one of us to be healed, to be forgiven. He desires us to receive his love and mercy for us. To receive the gift of his love, mercy and healing, we must put our complete trust and confidence in him, in his power and authority as God. He desires only our good; he is our Lord and God, our Savior, our friend. May the Holy Spirit grant each of us a greater faith in these times, one that recognizes the rock on which we stand, Jesus Christ. Amen!

COMING UP: The Church needs the Spirit of Truth

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During these tumultuous days for the Church, I have been praying that the Spirit of Truth descends upon every disciple in the Church, including the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, those in consecrated life and the laity.

I have said to the Lord, “I don’t care how messy it gets, as long as the truth prevails. Purify the heart and conscience, O Lord, of every disciple with your Spirit of Truth, so they will seek to follow only your will, Father… That every disciple may come to know you, love you and serve you alone!”

The revelations about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual sins and infidelity, and those who enabled him, have been extremely disheartening. The Church must not give in to the temptation of hiding, which was the reaction Adam and Eve had when they sinned. Only when one brings one’s sin into the light, does one experience the unconditional mercy and love of Jesus. Hiding communicates to God, ‘I really do not trust your love and mercy for me, you cannot heal me, or set me free from the slavery of my sin,’ or, ‘I do not want to let go of my sin.’

Jesus teaches us, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). He teaches us that we can know the truth, and in knowing the truth we will be set free from everything that is not of him. In our encounter with Jesus, we come to know his love, mercy and truth for he himself is the “way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6).

For the sake of the truth being known, I recently joined Cardinal DiNardo and the Executive Committee of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference in calling for the Holy See to conduct a thorough investigation into the Archbishop McCarrick situation, including the involvement of a lay committee with the authority from Rome to carry out an independent investigation.

These horrible actions should never have happened, whether we are talking about the unthinkable crime of abusing minors, or the abuse of power by cardinals, bishops or priests over a long period of time.

When it comes to protecting children, I want to assure the people of northern Colorado that the archdiocese has been and continues to be rigorous in its efforts to protect minors and help those who have been harmed in the past.

In 1991, more than 10 years before the USCCB adopted the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to respond to the clergy sexual abuse crisis within the Church, Archbishop Stafford instituted a mandatory reporting policy. He met with law enforcement and pledged his cooperation in any instance where there is a crime in the Church. As a result, for the last 27 years the archdiocese has had a positive relationship with law enforcement and social services and has consistently reported allegations of childhood sexual abuse it receives to the proper authorities. Archbishop Stafford also created a conduct response team, which was years ahead of when the practice became standard after the Charter. This conduct response team has always been comprised of dedicated professionals (including lay members) who advise me and are available for victims to meet, get them support they need, and help with the healing process.

Beyond these fundamental steps—which are still in place today—the archdiocese has also focused on how to help victims heal as its primary mission in addressing this issue. For example, beginning in 2005, a number of victims came forward publicly alleging abuse in the 1950s-early 1980s by five priests, all of whom were deceased. The archdiocese announced a groundbreaking and unique program—an independent outreach panel comprised of professionals, including a judge, a rehabilitation specialist and a police lieutenant. This panel provided those with legitimate claims of childhood sexual abuse the financial means to seek healing. Archbishop Chaput urged all victims of abuse by anyone affiliated with the archdiocese to come forward and meet with the independent panel. He made clear that attorneys for the archdiocese would not be present and that this was not part of litigation but instead was intended to be a ministry of the Church, in recognition of the wrongs done to these victims. The archbishop also offered to
meet with victims personally. More than 50 victims received compensation after this program was announced and this work was concluded by 2010.

The work of Cardinal Stafford, Archbishop Chaput and me, now that I am the steward of this archdiocese, is focused on protecting children. Above all, the archdiocese has for decades maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards credible accusations of sexual abuse by priests and laity who are affiliated with the archdiocese. While incidents of sexual abuse will always exist in society, the archdiocese remains active in enforcing its policies and longstanding zero-tolerance approach.

Besides working to prevent abuse, the archdiocese is committed to praying for the victims who have suffered from the sins of cardinals, bishops, priests or any other Church employee. For this reason, I invite anyone who would like to pray for the healing of these wounds to join me at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for Masses of reparation on Sept. 9, Oct. 7 at 10:30 a.m., and on Nov. 7 and Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m. I have also asked every priest in the archdiocese to publicize and offer a monthly Mass for the healing of victims of abuse by clergy members and any others in society. When one sees that in the general population 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of sexual abuse, it is clear there is much to pray for!

May our Blessed Mother intercede for all those who have suffered abuse at the hands of clergy members and guide the Church in these trying times. May the Spirit of Truth fill every disciple of Jesus and lead us to the truth of his love and mercy, setting us free of all deceit and lies, so that our wills may be conformed to the will of the Father!

Pray, my dearest brothers and sisters, for the Spirit of Truth to descend upon every member of the Church, for your prayer is powerful when it is grounded in trust and confidence in the promises of Jesus and the love of the Father!

For more in-depth information on abuse prevention measures in the Archdiocese of Denver, visit: https://denvercatholic.org/qa-on-clergy-misconduct-and-abuse-of-power/