Helen Keller said: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened.”
I had two conversations this past week. Two conversations with friends I’ve known for a long time and both are strong, church-going Catholics. In reflecting on the events of the recent past, both said the exact same four words to me: “My faith is shaken.”
My faith is shaken.
Those conversations got to me…
I have preached twice on the topic of the crisis in the Church. After the second one, I thought… let’s just give it a rest now. Twice is enough. But those two conversations this past week had me thinking, as did a meeting yesterday with the Cardinal at the Archdiocese to talk about all this. Oh yeah, and so too did today’s second reading.
In the second reading, the author of the letter to the Hebrews talks about the men of the cloth, the priests. He states the following:
“Every high priest is taken from among men
and made their representative before God,
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”
That makes sense. They’re taken from among the people… sure, and made representatives before God, right. They offer gifts and sacrifices for sins… excellent.
But then the reading continues with this:
“He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,
for he himself is beset by weakness…”
That would suggest that priests are able to perform their function not despite their own weaknesses, but because of them.
… because of them…
Is that what the author of this sacred scripture is saying?
If so, then doesn’t that suggest something important?
At yesterday’s meeting at the Archdiocese, there was plenty of recognition of our deficiencies as a Church. That many within it had let us all down. That there was error, failure, sin.
But then there was some reflection on what has been recently and quite frequently cited about our other earthly institutions, about our society and our culture. About what has been revealed in corporate settings, in the entertainment industry, in government, within public school systems. It’s all a lot of errors, failures, and sins.
The Church, given our mission of guiding souls to eternity, needs to be held to a higher standard… the highest standard possible, no doubt. But as a collection of sinners ourselves, we should not be completely shocked by the sin we encounter here.
But here’s the thing… the Catholic Church has done a great deal to pull itself up out of this hole. We have a ways to go… definitely… but we actually have come fairly far. A lot of good has happened.
There’s no declaration of victory here. That would be bad.
There’s no diminishment of the pain and suffering of victims. That would be really bad.
But, perhaps this is an opportunity to be judged not by how we fell, but how we got up. Not by that which led to the cross, but what’s beyond it. Not by the adversity, but how we kept on going forward. Not by how it knocked us down onto our kneecaps, but by how it couldn’t keep us there.
We can be judged by the sin… or we can be judged by the redemption.
Now is the time for our Church to show the rest of the world the way. In ways that Wall Street, Hollywood, Washington DC or academia never could.
The apostle Thomas wasn’t judged solely by his doubt or the first pope Peter by his denial, but rather where they went from those moments forward.
I opened with a quote… now I’ll close with one.
American artist, Walter Anderson, once said: “Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”
There’s more to the story for us as Church.
Our faith may be shaken, but together we can rise.