letter to a suffering church

Letter-Cover-3Dstack-p-800Bishop Robert Barron has written a short and incisive letter in response to the sexual abuse crisis that has roiled the Catholic Church in recent decades.

The first letter of Archbishop Vigano, released a year ago (August 22, 2018), rocked the Church like an earthquake, with (then Cardinal) Theodore McCarrick as its epicenter. The aftershocks have reverberated daily, as scandal after scandal has been unveiled in dioceses around the globe.

The response by the institutional church over the past year has been—at best—lethargic. At worst, the response has been defensive, regressive, and surrounded by a culture of silence all the way up to the Pope:

“I read the statement this morning.  I read it and sincerely I must tell you, and all those who are interested: read it yourselves carefully and make your own judgment.  I will not say a single word on this.  I believe the memo speaks for itself, and you are capable enough as journalists to draw your own conclusions.  This is an act of trust: when some time has passed and you have drawn conclusions, perhaps I will speak.  But I ask that you use your professional maturity in doing this: it will do you good, really.”

Pope Francis, on the papal flight back to Rome from the World Meeting of Families, Sunday, 26 August 2018

It is within this context that Bishop Barron has written a Letter to a Suffering Church. It is divided into five short chapters:

Chapter One: The Devil’s Masterpiece

Chapter Two: Light from Scripture

Chapter Three: We Have Been Here Before

Chapter Four: Why Should We Stay?

Chapter Five: The Way Forward

I would love to see more pastoral letters from bishops written with such clarity, insight and economy of language.

I especially appreciated chapter two, as I found the discussion based on the Old Testament passages to be very apropos and insightful. And I was deeply moved and motivated by this passage in the last chapter, The Way Forward:

…Something new must come forth, something specifically fitted to our time and designed to respond to the particular corruption that currently besets us. Above all, we need saints, marked by holiness of course, but also by intelligence, an understanding of the culture, and the willingness to try something fresh. Somewhere in the Church right now is a new Benedict, a new Francis, a new Ignatius, a new Teresa of Kolkata, a new Dorothy Day. This is your time!

I hope every Catholic will take the time to read this book and review the related resources over at SufferingChurchBook.com. If possible, why not start a study group to discuss the book? While I recommend ordering the materials from the Word on Fire website, you can also purchase a Kindle version of the book for one dollar on Amazon.

Bishop Barron’s Prayer for a Suffering Church

Lord Jesus Christ, through your Incarnation you accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. Setting aside the glory of your divinity, you met us face to face in the vulnerability of our humanity.

Though without sin, you accepted sinners, offering forgiveness and placing yourself before even the most unworthy as a servant and a friend. You became small and weak in the estimation of the powerful, so that you might elevate to glory the small and weak of the world.

Your descent into our nature was not without risk, as it exposed you to the assaults of the darkest and most terrifying of humanity’s fallen desires—our cruelty and narrowness, our deceptions and our denials. All this culminated in the cross, where your divine love was met with the full fury of our malice, our violence, and our estrangement from your grace.

You offered yourself to us with innocence and receptivity, and this was met with the abuse of your body, humiliation and mockery, betrayal and isolation, torture and death. All this—even the dereliction of feeling abandoned by God—you accepted. You became a victim, so that all those victimized since the beginning of the world would know you as their advocate. You went into the darkness, so that all those compelled into the dark by human wickedness would discover in you a radiant light.

Grant we pray, O Lord, healing for all victims of sexual abuse. Purify your Church of corruption. Bring justice to those who have been wronged. Grant consolation to all who are afflicted. Cast your light to banish the shadows of deception. Manifest to all your advocacy of those who have been so cruelly hurt, and your judgment upon those who, having perpetrated such crimes, remain unrepentant. Compel those in your Church whom you have entrusted to safeguard the innocent and act on behalf of the victims to be vigilant and zealous in their duties. Restore faith to those from whom it has been stolen, and hope to those who have despaired.

Christ the Victim, we call out to you!

Strengthen your faithful to accept the mission placed before us, a mission of holiness and truth. Inspire us to become advocates of those who have been harmed. Grant us strength to fight for justice. Impart to us courage so that we might forthrightly face the challenges to come. Raise up saints from your Church, and grant us the grace to become the saints you desire us to be. This we ask of you, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen.

more from pope emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope_Benedict_XVIThis week, in the German journal Herder Korrespondenzthe Pope emeritus has weighed in on the negative responses to his April letter on the sexual abuse crisis. From the National Catholic Register:

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has responded to criticism of his essay on the abuse crisis, saying many negative reactions have confirmed his central thesis that apostasy and alienation from the Faith are at the heart of the crisis – by not even mentioning God in their critique of his essay.

This strikes me as a very astute evaluation. Of course, in some quarters of the Church, his attempt to assess the situation in light of an abandonment of God is not being well received… see the combox over at America magazine, for example.

In Genesis 3, the serpent approached Eve and insinuated that an unhealthy mandate had been given by God. When Eve and Adam decided that the serpent had given the correct evaluation of the situation, everything crumbled into suspicion and fear. Once suspicion and fear were given reign, and the attempt was made to find happiness by declaring autonomy — the abandonment of dependence of God — Eve and Adam lost their true identity and everything went haywire.

Saint Paul made a similar point in the opening of his letter to the Romans:

Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions.

Are we really unwilling and unable to understand our current situation in light of this primordial and perennial situation?

The Second Vatican Council articulated it well:

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.

Gaudium et Spes, 22

marriage and the possibilities of human love

This week, while sitting in a bakery, I picked up the June 30 edition of the Minneapolis StarTribune and read this sobering headline:

Weddings a less religious affair: Church weddings are now a minority, as Minnesota couples choose convenience over tradition

The cultural shift described by the article is very dramatic:

Religious institutions hosted only 22% of weddings in 2017, according to a survey by the Knot, a leading wedding news website. That’s a swift decline from the 41% in 2009.

Barns, ranches and banquet halls are among the top beneficiaries of the shift.

Catholic churches have been particularly hard hit. The number of weddings nationwide plunged from 326,000 in 1990 to 143,000 in 2018 — despite an increase in the Catholic population. In Minnesota, there are half as many Catholic church weddings today, with 3,100 last year, as in 1990.

In just ten years, the number of marriages performed by religious institutions has dropped by 50%.

And then this story of how it is playing out:

Even some couples whose first choice is a church ceremony often change their minds because of requirements. Raised Catholic, Emily and Joe Beckers expected to be married in a Catholic church. But the Maplewood couple was put off by the marriage preparation classes, which seemed too “faith based,” and the required weekend retreat with other couples. They also wanted a personalized wedding ceremony and worried that couldn’t happen.

There was even a bigger hurdle. Joe Beckers was divorced, and for the marriage to be recognized in the church, he would need to get an annulment of his first marriage.

The wedding plans shifted gears, and they ended up at Embassy Suites in St. Paul.

Said Emily Beckers: “We were able to tailor every detail to our relationship.”

God, the sacraments, and the church are fading in the minds of young couples. No longer are these things considered important to the success or vitality of their relationship. What matters more is the ability to make the ceremony a triumph of self-expression. Is it any wonder that marriages fail so often? They are little more than houses built on sand.

Pope Saint John Paul II was prophetic in his sense about the direction that marriage was headed with young people. He describes the dynamic delicately and profoundly in his play about the sacrament of marriage. One of the characters in the drama is an old jeweler, a man who prepares the rings for young couples. He represents the priest, the witness of the sacrament and the one who, in the person of Christ, offers the blessing on behalf of the Church.

CHRISTOPHER
When we took the rings I felt your hand trembling….
We forgot to pay attention to the face of that old man,
whom Mother told me about: his eyes are said to be very expressive.
It is not our fault that we read nothing
in his eyes; and he said little — things we knew anyway.
So do not be surprised, Mother, that his words left no trace
(things we knew anyway — we did not sense greatness),
and Monica’s trembling hands told me much more.
I was engrossed in her being moved, and in my own
experience of her being moved, which I shared fully
— and I saw us two deep down in our experience:
I think I love her very much.

MONICA
We were taken up with each other — how could we tear ourselves away…
He did nothing to fascinate us…
he simply measured, first, the circumference of our fingers, then of the rings,
as an ordinary craftsman would. There was no artistry in it even.
He did not bring us closer to anything. All the beauty remained
in our own feeling. He did not widen or narrow anything
…I was absorbed by my love — and by nothing else, it seems.

TERESA
This frightened me, however… Does the old jeweler not act anymore with the force of his eyes and his word? Or is it that those two are unable to feel that force, hidden in his look and his speech. Is it that they are different?…
What are you building, children? What cohesion
are these feelings of yours going to have beyond the old jeweler’s message
of which the vertical axis cuts across
every marriage in this world?

The Jeweler’s Shop by Karol Wojtyla

Clearly the Church has its work cut out for it if it hopes to be given the opportunity to assist young couples in preparing well for marriage in any kind of meaningful way… leading them beyond the fantasy and the sentimentality, toward the bedrock of a love that pours itself out selflessly on behalf of the beloved.

For more about the play The Jeweler’s Shop, click here.

The Jeweler’s Shop

In the fall of 2014, Open Window Theatre in Minneapolis performed The Jeweler’s Shop, one of my favorite plays. It was written by Karol Wojtyla (who later became Pope St. John Paul II).

The Jeweler's Shop - Open Window Theatre

On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, immediately following a performance of the play, I joined three others in a panel discussion of the text. I don’t know nearly as much about John Paul II, the theater, or the play as the others on the panel, but on the basis of my sheer enthusiasm for the play, I was invited to participate.

Here’s a short description of the play, from the official English translation:

Love is “one of the greatest dramas of human existence,” writes Pope John Paul II. In this illuminating three-act play — here in the only English translation authorized by the Vatican — he explores relationships between men and women, the joys — and the pain — of love and marriage. The action unfolds in two settings at once: a street in a small town, outside the local jeweler’s shop (people go to buy their wedding rings there), and the mysterious inner landscape of personal hopes and fears, loves and longings. Each act focuses on a different couple: the first happily planning their wedding, the second long-married and unhappy, the third about to marry but full of doubts. Writing with power and understanding about a love that survives the grave, a love that has withered and died, a love budding out of complexes and insecurities, the Pope addresses such fundamental human concerns as: What does it mean to fall in love? When do we know that a love is real — and can it last? If it dies, how do we go on living — and loving — again? There are no easy answers, and there is no happy ending — such is the nature of men and women, and such is the nature of love — but there is hope, if we only acknowledge our need and accept the risks of a deep and lasting commitment. This is a play full of wisdom on a subject of great relevance to all, and it provides a special insight into the thoughts of the man who, like no other, has captured the imagination of people of all faiths throughout the world…. Karol Wojtyla — Pope John Paul II — has long been involved with the theater. As a student of literature, then priest, bishop and archbishop, he acted, directed, wrote dramatic criticism, made a Polish translation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and has authored six plays. (source)

The panel discussion lasted about an hour. Here it is in audio format: