Like most Catholics, I have found myself equal parts appalled and frustrated over the recent abuse allegations (and ensuing cover-ups) that continue to come to light. Cardinals, bishops, and priests — the men we laypeople trust to be our shepherds and guides — have all been implicated in what are, by all accounts, horribly unspeakable acts.
As much as I’d like to, I can’t just ignore what’s happening. I’ve been closely following Catholic news, cheering for the brave souls coming forward to tell their stories, and lend their voices to what essentially amounts to the Catholic “he too” movement. The more that is brought into the light, it seems, the better chance we have for healing.
Yet as a layperson, I also admit that there is a general feeling of helplessness that accompanies each new revelation of corruption and abuse. I am a stay-at-home mother, living in Denver, with no real stake in church politics. I attend a lovely parish with my husband and children, and we are certainly quite involved there, but we are also far removed (mercifully!) from the tragic things that we now know to have been happening over the past many years. Such revelations are an unfortunate but very real blight on Christ’s Church as a whole. Our ability as Catholics to evangelize in our local communities has been, sadly, at least somewhat diminished as our credibility in the world appears to be nearly irreparably damaged.
Does that sound like a gloomy, negative take on things? Maybe so. But the effect of these scandals on our Catholic witness to the world cannot, and must not, be overlooked. So what is someone like me, or you, to do?
For one thing, I’ve committed myself to staying up on what’s happening, which is no small task when seemingly each new day brings a new revelation or allegation. I’ve also tried to use my voice, humble as it is, to speak up in support of both the victims, and the courageous churchmen coming forward and making public statements in pursuit of truth. I also remain staunchly committed to advocating as best I can for the truth — this is not the time to rely upon mere rumor or speculation. We must plead, and wait for, the facts. And of course, there is always prayer.
But I also want to be proactive. To feel like I’m making a difference. While I don’t have a direct role to play in managing the difficult affairs of the Church, I do believe I have a responsibility to participate in Church life, and in healing the painful wounds that continue to rise to the surface. Surely there’s a place for laypeople like me to exercise their gifts and work to make things better, even beyond a devotion to prayer and to the sacraments, important as those things are.
In a recent homily, my parish priest was discussing the present state of things. My priest has, over the years, demonstrated a fairly impressive ability to address even the most difficult of situations while still maintaining a spirit of hope, and a focus on Christ’s love — something that is not always so easy to do, I’m sure. So, in the context of his homily, my priest quoted something from St. Augustine that has stuck with me ever since:
“Bad times, hard times — this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: such as we are, such are the times.”
Certainly no one can deny that these are, indeed, dark times for the Catholic Church. Sin and pain are being exposed and dragged out into the light. We are, and rightly so, scandalized. Some among us are perhaps even tempted to walk away, and even the most faithful of those sticking around are uncertain and discouraged.
But the truth of the matter is that not only can we cling to Jesus and his promises in the most difficult of moments, we can also renew our commitment to live out our respective vocations the best we know how. Because the times, whether good or bad, are not merely (or even mostly) defined by a few (or a lot of) wayward individuals. They are also marked by saints-in-the-making. The people sitting in the pews. The mothers and fathers doing the long, hard work of love in their respective homes. The many good and faithful priests and bishops shepherding their flocks, day after day and week after week.
So don’t despair! Don’t believe that you can’t make a difference in our Church. Pursuing holiness and friendship with God, overcoming brokenness, and loving well are all representative of the times we live in, just as surely as the darkest news headlines are. We must keep serving our families, receiving the sacraments, and loving the poor. We must never give up on faith, hope, and charity. We must look to Christ and to his mother, Mary, to lead the way through both the joys, and the sorrows, of this life.
If we can do this, even in the midst of rocky, turbulent times, the world will see. They will see the light in spite of the darkness, and the good in spite of the evil. They will see that Jesus Christ is Lord, even when some of his own people have abandoned, mocked, and spit upon him. They will see that faithful Catholics are ordinary men, women, and children who advocate for abuse victims and Church reform, while simultaneously holding firm to the tenets of the faith.
Loving Jesus, taking up our crosses, and following after him — it is truly the only way forward. And not only might God use us and our humble efforts to remake a hurting Church, we might also just discover that we have been remade, as well.
St. Augustine was right when he suggested that above all, we live well in the bad and the hard times.
Because we are the times. Such as we are, such are the times.