One thing the Father knows is people. He gave us a Church that’s as people-proof as any human institution can be.
We love the insight that God writes straight with crooked lines. We’re a crooked bunch and we take comfort in the fact that God uses us anyway, at the same time he’s helping us straighten out. But sometimes, like now, the lines just feel too crooked ever to get straightened out.
The whole Church in the US has been mortified by the revelations about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. We’re all expecting more revelations, more embarrassment, and more pain.
And in Pennsylvania where I live, we’re waiting for the state attorney general’s report on the sexual abuse of minors across most of the dioceses, including mine. Someone who has reason to know said to me, with pain on his face, “It’s going to be bad, really bad.” He paused. “It’s going to be really, really bad.” Our bishop, David Zubik, had a letter read at all Masses on Sunday, trying to prepare his people. He worried “that your faith may be tested.”
It may be tested
Your faith may be tested. At times like this, it’s really easy to feel that the Church isn’t who she says she is. But you don’t need to feel that way.
God was there in the Garden, watching mankind blow the sweetest deal anyone ever got. God was there as his chosen people chose other gods and fought with each other and split up into two warring nations. He was there, as the great and good ones of the day cold-bloodedly murder his Son, and Jesus’ best friends run for cover. He’s been with His Church through all the centuries, including all the times her leaders failed so badly.
He knows every horrible act, every stupid move, every bit of laziness and selfishness and pettiness, every lying, cheating, lowdown thing his people ever did. Neither McCarrick nor the attorney general’s report were unknown to him.
One thing the Father knows, it’s people. He gave us a Church that’s as people-proof as any human institution can be. He knew from the beginning what we would need: a place we knew we’d meet Jesus, a place where we’d find out what he wants to tell us and how he wants us to live, and where we’d get his help and aid.
He created the Catholic Church. He created the Petrine office, and gives its holder the grace to guard the Church’s teaching and unity. He created the episcopacy and priesthood, and gives those the Church ordains the power to celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Mass. He gives us a lot more, but this is enough for now.
God looks out for us
God was looking out for his people from the very beginning. He knew we’d sometimes have really bad shepherds. The Church has gone through a lot of bad patches in her almost 2,000-year history. She tells us, yes, these popes and those bishops and that crowd of priests, awful people. And those laymen, just as bad, and maybe worse. But those popes upheld the Church’s teaching and unified the Church, and those bishops and priests celebrated the sacraments that brings Jesus to his people.
The fundamental things, the necessary things, they always work no matter how bad Catholics get. Jesus lives with us in the Tabernacle and gives himself to us in the Mass.
Our Father didn’t promise all of these men would be saints, or even just run-of-the-mill good guys. He promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church, no matter what. He promised to be with us to the end of the age. He promised to write straight with crooked lines. For God so loved the world, and so deeply knew his people, that he gave us the Church.
And most relevant here, perhaps, he gave us the sacrament of confession. We can’t do much directly to change the culture of the Church in America. We can do something to change ourselves, with God’s help. And therefore, together and over time, change the Church.
On Good Friday 2005, then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger reflected on Jesus falling for the third time. He saw the shame: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him,” he said.
Here’s the prayer with which the future pope responded to that insight:
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.