Today’s headlines make me wonder why I remain a practicing Catholic: There are apparently credible allegations against Archbishop (formerly Cardinal) Theodore McCarrick; and Pope Francis appears to be unsuccessful in his continued pleading with members of the Church to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick.
If the Church cannot rid herself of the scourge of sexual abuse by those who are ordained to protect the flock, and its members will not behave as Christians even when so exhorted by the Vicar of Christ, how can I boast in the Lord whom we claim to follow?
I know schisms, corruption and greed even at the highest level have dogged our Church for two millennia. Faced with this it sometimes is difficult to remember that our Church also has contributed tremendous good to this world: art and music and universities, not to mention hope and the promise of salvation. I must remember, too, that although the Church is comprised of sinful human beings, she was founded by and is protected by Christ himself, who promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It is Jesus, founder and protector of our faith, on whom I must fix my eyes.
Left to myself, even gazing at a crucifix, I would soon drown in despair, but ours is not a religion for individuals, it is a religion of community. God’s covenant is with all his people. For their salvation he sent his Son, who through his death and resurrection became head of the Church, through which he offers us grace by way of the sacraments, which nourish us as we who comprise the Body of Christ continue to do his work on earth.
And what work we do! In the past two weeks alone I was privileged to visit Give Me a Chance in Ogden, where the Daughters of Charity and many volunteers offer various ministries that include after-school help for children, some of whom are in the third grade and still can’t read. I also accompanied Bishop Solis as he spoke about our faith as a gesture of interfaith outreach at Brigham Young University; and I attended Mass at the Carmelite monastery, where the nuns pray night and day for us and for the salvation of the world.
While the despicable acts of a few black sheep cannot be ignored, neither can the millions of fellow Catholics who strive on behalf of the poor, the needy, the suffering, the voiceless. Sometimes these efforts make headlines, like the Catholics who recently opposed legalizing abortion in Ireland; other times they go largely unreported, such as the Catholics who are fighting against human trafficking (to name just one example).
On top of all that are the examples of modern-day saints. July 26 was the second anniversary of the death of Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 86-year-old priest who was continuing his ministry after his retirement when he was murdered while celebrating Mass in his parish in France. In his last letter he wrote, “We can hear God’s invitation to us to heal this world, to make the place in which we live a warmer and more humane place of togetherness.”
Fr. Hamel joins in martyrdom Fr. Stanley Rother, who was born in Oklahoma and served as a missionary in Guatemala. A civil war shook the country, and the priest was murdered on July 28, 1981. In 2016, he was recognized as the first American-born martyr.
When Fr. Rother’s name was placed on a death list, he left Guatemala for a brief time, but then returned. “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” he said.
I am not a shepherd, nor am I facing death threats. My enemy at the moment is the prowling lion of despair, and to resist him I must remain firm in my faith. True, the harm done by some of my fellow Catholics must be acknowledged and atoned for, but it is also right to focus on the good that others do. It is the Church that offers the sacraments for strength and grace to continue along the path to salvation, and so in the Church I remain.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.