It’s appalling. Any human being with a modicum of decency is horrified by the abuse uncovered by the Pennsylvania Attorney General in the Grand Jury Report, perpetrated by priests in the Catholic Church. Additionally painful are the decades of cover-up by of the very people Catholics trust to be teachers and shepherds. After the abuse victims themselves and their loved ones, it’s the most painful for Catholics themselves who love(d) their Church and feel set adrift by the very place they have called their spiritual anchor.
Someone asked me the other day “how many will leave the Church?” I don’t know the answer, but I already personally know of some. And I get it. People are “done” with deception, with Church politics, and not feeling that the Church is properly addressing what is legitimately a huge and complex problem.
But I know with a certainty, that I will never leave.
Shortly after this new round of scandals broke this summer, my husband and I visited Boston for a few days away together (and no, the coincidence of this being a past hotbed of abuse was not lost on me). We did a ton of walking and visited a number of notable historical buildings, many of them on the Freedom Trail.
Several of these buildings were churches and they were inspiringly beautiful. Yet as I took pictures of the beautiful artwork and appreciated the arches and architectural details that undoubtedly have led so many people to prayer, I sensed acutely that something – Someone – was missing.
These non-Catholic Churches didn’t have a tabernacle, the structure built to house the Eucharist, the bread that Catholics believe are transformed into the Body of Christ during each Mass. Those wafers that are not consumed during Mass are then kept in the Tabernacle. We believe that Jesus is uniquely present in the Eucharist, and that the Tabernacle is, therefore, a sacred house for God Himself.
I realize that this is an extraordinary teaching. That many may not believe it. But it is central teaching of the Catholic faith. We believe that at the Last Supper, Jesus offered His body and blood as a sacrifice so that all of us – though we fall and sin – could one day join him in heaven. Each Mass, we don’t just commemorate that sacrifice, it is re-presented.
Can you imagine a God who was willing to undergo a painful death so that, as screwed up as we are, we have a chance of eternal life? If He could die in this way and rise again, he can most certainly turn bread and wine into His Body and Blood. We have the opportunity to receive Christ at each Mass and to visit Church and pray where He is present in this corporeal way.
So whether it’s the latest failing of fellow Catholics, priests or Bishops or even just a desire to pursue spirituality on my own terms instead of within the context of the Catholic Church, if I truly believe this teaching, how could I go elsewhere?
To non-Catholics, I would say this: understand that we are just as outraged as you are about these abuses, both of children and of power. We want change.
To fellow Catholics who are considering leaving, I ask this simple question: Do you believe? Do you know that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist? If you are unsure, I urge you to learn more about this central teaching of the Church before making up your mind. And, of course, to go into a Church (doesn’t have to be on a Sunday, God is present in the tabernacle all the time) and pray. Ask Him what He is asking of you.
So many of us were struck by a reading at Mass that occurred providentially at the time much of this news broke. Jesus is teaching his disciples and says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6: 54-55). He acknowledges that this isn’t exactly an easy teaching to accept. And, in fact, many disciples ceased following Him as a result. But when Jesus turns to Simon Peter and asks if he will also leave, Peter responds “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
This is a difficult time and may get worse before it gets better. However, if anyone can accompany the Church out of this present darkness, it is the one who founded it – Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us in this same Biblical passage that His teaching on the Eucharist is “spirit and life”. And so when I feel dismayed by the latest news, discouraged by inaction, and am searching for the next step to rebuild the Church, you’ll find me where so many of life’s difficulties have landed me – on my knees, at the local Church, praying to the One who created us, who saved us, and is with us still.