The Danger, and the Challenge, of Daily Catholic News
One wonders whether one should read Catholic World News while on vacation. Consider yesterday’s headlines: “Belgian police confirm death threats in sex-abuse investigation”, “Melbourne archbishop issues apology, says 60 priests abused children”, “Muslim vigilantes punish professor for ‘blasphemy’ by severing his arm”, “Gay bishop’s appointment could fuel Anglican disputes”, “Retired California bishop calls for ‘Vatican III’ on sexuality”, “Car bomb damages Iraqi archbishop’s residence”, and my personal favorite, “Las Vegas bishop requires fingerprinting of ushers, other Church volunteers.”
The variety of wounds in the body of Christ, whether from outside attack or self-inflicted, seems to be almost infinite. It is scarcely possible to find a horror that has not materialized, or a horror story that has not been reported. I do not intend this as a criticism of our own news service, but nowadays fear and depression are often an unfortunate side-effect of competent news reporting.
As far as the daily news goes, it’s now an exceedingly small world. Our increasing awareness of the sad spiritual state of things is partly another form of what everyone has come to take for granted in the secular news. It used to be we heard only about the mad axe murderer in our own small community, an imposing figure to be sure, but one who might appear only once every hundred years or so. But now we hear about every homicidal maniac on the planet, and it makes us perceptibly more nervous. It also makes us more receptive to those who sell locks and security systems.
In just the same way, our wider awareness of the evils being perpetrated both against and within the Church ought to focus our attention on the weaknesses of our own spirituality. Just as the natural response to homicidal mania ought to be increased personal security, so too the supernatural response to spiritual chaos ought to be a stronger devotional life.
Sometimes that’s not what happens. For example, my wife’s mother, who has lost a good deal of her vision in recent years, also lost her ride to daily Mass because a friend decided not to attend any more, muttering something about “Irish priests and sexual abuse.” The urge to knock sense into someone is very strong here. You can’t escape evil by running and hiding. You have to shore up your own defenses. You can’t protect yourself against wounds by sticking your head in the sand or becoming one of the three monkeys. You need to put on some armor. In fact, you need to put on the whole armor of God. (Eph 6:11-13)
The spiritual wretchedness of the world, including the wretchedness of countless members of the Catholic Church (in every time and place), can be healed only through my own deliberate personal willingness to make myself spiritually less wretched. As John the Baptist put it so eloquently, “I must decrease and He must increase” (Jn 3:30). The goal, according to St. Paul, is that “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Prayer, penance, reparation; sacramental life; not through frenzied activity but with deeper faith; less anxiety, more joy; not our life but Christ’s.
In the wake of unending news reports of the Church’s woes, we all face a strong tendency to separate ourselves from those, in particular, who have inflicted grievous wounds on the Church from within. We are not likely to say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Nor should we say that, because the correct slogan strikes far closer to home: “There despite the grace of God go I, for I too have sinned.” Which of us has not contributed to the disfiguring of the body of Christ? Which of us is so full of grace that, on our own, we can heal that body and bring the Church to glory?
Don’t get me wrong. We are not all Islamic fundamentalists, child molesters, sexual rebels, or (God help us) bureaucrats busy about fingerprinting our neighbors. Just as we are not all axe murderers. But we are all sinners, and whatever we are called to do for Christ, we are called to do through prayer, by His power and not by ours. We are certinaly not called to run for cover in order to save our lives, which is after all only a sure way to lose them. We are rather called to go deeper into the life of Christ, a life which is always available whole and unblemished through His deeply blemished ministers in a Church which mysteriously remains without spot or wrinkle (Eph 5:27).
“Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). These are Christ’s words before His agony. Paradoxically, the solution to horror is the grace which flows exclusively from the disfigured Body of Christ.
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Posted by: John J Plick -
Jul. 11, 2010 8:04 PM ET USA
"Don’t get me wrong. We are not all Islamic fundamentalists, child molesters, sexual rebels, or (God help us) bureaucrats busy about fingerprinting our neighbors." If our parishes were "as advertised" and not mere "spiritual shells," for the most part devoid of "real relationship" with the Sacraments in the middle, than we WOULDN'T be fingerprinting our neighors.
Posted by: koinonia -
Jul. 08, 2010 10:16 AM ET USA
F. O'Connor- "To get back to all the sorry Catholics. Sin is sin whether it is committed by the Pope, bishops, priests or lay people...The Church is mighty realistic about human nature." The statement is not meant to be perjorative but to help us reflect on our human frailty. Those who abandon the sacraments have a poor grasp of Christ's plan of salvation. Sanctifying grace flows into our souls through the sacraments we receive in loving our Savior. This is the news that really matters.
Posted by: dmillnerSanDiego -
Jul. 07, 2010 5:21 PM ET USA
Jeff, this entry is a comfort to me, but not in the way you intended. We see the these stories after a large pipeline of news has been digested and processed for us by you, and Phil and Peter, the principles at Catholic Culture. I hesitate to imagine the effect the raw effluent has. At at center of our Catholic culture should be hearts of flesh, not stone. Thank you for what you do.
Posted by: hartwood01 -
Jul. 06, 2010 6:49 PM ET USA
Sometimes I just can't bear to get past the headlines and open the article. I pick and choose,depending on how strong my stomach is that day. I take comfort in "..the gates of hell shall not prevail." The gates of hell are shaking violently these days.
Posted by: Contrary1995 -
Jul. 06, 2010 5:14 PM ET USA
This entry is far too negative. Really, things have rarely been better in the Church. Just think of all the wonderful apostolates and communities that have sprung up in the Church over the last thirty years. Think of all the wonderful initiatives all across the Church. The crimes brought before us largely belong to the dark period of the 60s and 70s. The Church is young!
Posted by: rondamom1691 -
Jul. 06, 2010 4:50 PM ET USA