Dominican friar Jacques-Benoît Rauscher suggests a way to keep hope alive, inspired by the life of St. Dominic.
I’ve met a lot of people who are disorientated by the repeated scandals in the Church. These people are not direct victims of crimes committed by priests or religious, nor are they guilty for what has happened. But their faith has been shaken by these events. And for good reason! I confess that I don’t always have the words to help them. I confess that I, too, don’t come away unscathed from the sinister news stories that highlight the perversity of people who had given their lives to the Church.
In these destabilizing times, we need to denounce the crimes, care for the victims, and think about how to prevent such horrors from happening again. But we must also be careful not to give in to despair. We mustn’t delude ourselves that all these revelations are just bad dreams that will eventually pass; but we must also have the strength to move forward and rediscover the flavor of the Gospel. This alone will enable us to overcome these terrible difficulties.
On this path, I’ve been helped by the example of great saints. Although every era is different, Christians in the past have also lived through times when everything seemed to be falling apart in the life of the Church. St. Dominic is one of them.
In the 13th century, he faced a serious crisis in the Church of his day. I believe that his attitude can inspire us to follow three paths, so that we too can stay on our feet when all seems to be capsizing in the Church.
First: Dare to cry
The first Dominican friars report that they heard St. Dominic crying at night in the chapel. Tears accompanied his prayer. He wept for the sins of the world, for the sufferings of the Church, torn apart by divisions and mediocre response to the Lord’s calls.
Here’s a first example to ponder. When everything seems to be falling apart in the Church, Dominic invites us to take the time to consider our grief. Even to weep. This sorrow means that we are not indifferent, that the dramas that are tearing the Church apart affect us because, deep down, we love the Church. It’s no small thing to realize this.
Second path: Know your roots
Witnesses to St. Dominic’s life recall that he was a man firmly rooted in his faith. He had received a solid formation in the land of Spain where he was born. This formation was intellectual, but not only that. It was also made up of encounters with believers who left their mark on him, with people waiting for the Word of God.
When we look at our roots, we realize that we want the message of the Gospel to continue to resonate in the world, because it is incomparably rich.
When everything seems to be falling apart in the Church, it’s good to return, like St. Dominic, to our roots: to a biblical text that’s important to us, to an event that has shaped our faith journey, to a person whose faith has carried us forward. This is the second piece of advice that Dominic’s life gives us: Remember our roots to realize how much our faith has made us better people. To look at our roots is to realize that we want the Gospel message to continue to resonate in the world, because it is incomparably rich.
Third path: Overcoming evil with good
St. Dominic was confronted with priests and bishops who were not up to their mission, not least because they lived too richly. Their lifestyle shocked many Christians who were leaving the Church. Dominic then proposed a new form of religious life — centered on poverty and begging — more inspired by the Gospel.
When everything seems to be falling apart in the Church, St. Dominic reminds us that we must name what’s wrong. But we must never allow ourselves to be crushed by evil. We need to invent new ways out of the crisis, inspired by the Gospel and the Church’s Tradition. We can all do this at our own level, so as not to be stunned by evil, but to commit ourselves to overcoming evil with the creativity of the Holy Spirit.
It’s easy to be shaken by one scandal after another. But, like St. Dominic, we need to rediscover the joy of believing and proclaiming the Gospel. Only then can we rebuild what needs to be rebuilt in the Church, and commit ourselves to ensuring that its mission is no longer distorted.