With new stories erupting almost constantly revealing corruption and perversion in the Church, I, like many others, have been lamenting the reality of such widespread depravity in the Body of Christ. Even as I’ve reminded myself that all but one of Jesus’ hand-picked band of apostles betrayed, denied, or abandoned Him during His Passion, I have grieved deeply that such grave evil could systemically exist in our beloved Catholic Church.
I remember well the shock waves that went through the culture when the sexual abuse crisis exploded in 2002 while the world was freshly reeling from 9-11, as we corporately awakened to the reality that our sense of safety had been altered both as a nation and as a Church. At the time I managed to find hope, at least where the Church was concerned, in a quote from the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which states: “the Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, is at once holy and always in need of purification.” That made sense to me, and I let the words of Vatican II bring me both clarity and comfort.
But these days, as report after report comes to light about the extent of the sexual and spiritual abuse perpetrated against innocent victims, I’ve felt mostly pain and confusion. I’m practically speechless over the revelations of misconduct among our shepherds, as well as over the divisive and vitriolic attacks that seem to be tearing the Church asunder: “conservatives” attacking “progressives,” “left” attacking “right,” with division, suspicion, and accusation seeming to rule the day.
“Why so much sin and rancor, Lord?” I’ve repeatedly asked. “What is going on here?”
It’s beginning to dawn on me that maybe what’s going on is that the Lord is answering the prayers of many, many people around the world for healing and renewal in the Church. And that maybe the exposure of these hideous sins and wounds is part of the necessary medicine for their cure, as was the certainly case in my own life and family.
Recently, the Lord reminded me of a passage from my book, Miracle Man, where I described my profuse discouragement over the tsunami that hit our lives after I began praying fervently for our family’s healing and conversion:
Though I thought it meant that God would wave a magic wand over my family and me, and with Mary’s motherly intercession make everything better instantaneously, I’m beginning to understand that real cleansing is more like a boil erupting than a magic bullet, and that it takes time both to extract the infection from the wound and to repair the damage that’s been done. Furthermore, it ain’t very pretty when it happens. But neither was the Crucifixion. Salvation has always been a messy business, and the scandal is that God’s right there in the midst of all of it.
I’m beginning to understand that the real scandal in the Church is not that there are sinners (even very serious ones) therein. That has always been the case. The real scandal is that an all-holy God dwells in the midst of such sin, and that he is able to call forth incredible good from even the most outrageous evil. The real scandal is that Christ makes himself present in the world through a broken, sinful Body of believers — a Body whose bones are snapping loudly in our ears as they are being reset so we may walk, and not limp, forward.
The real scandal is that Christ’s once-for-all redemptive sacrifice is made present and apparent in history through its application to our individual and collective sins, through the sins of the world, in which we participate and for which we constantly receive God’s mercy. The real scandal is that Christ continues to work through the instrument of salvation that he chose to communicate his presence in the world — the Church — even when this instrument shocks us with her sinfulness.
As Pope Benedict XVI pointedly stated in 2010:
Right now, in the midst of the scandals, we have experienced what it means to be very stunned by how wretched the Church is, by how much her members fail to follow Christ. That is the one side, which we are forced to experience for our humiliation, for our real humility. The other side is that, in spite of everything, (God) does not release his grip on the Church. In spite of the weakness of the people to whom he shows himself, he keeps the Church in his grasp, he raises up saints in her, and makes himself present through them. I believe that these two feelings belong together: the deep shock over the wretchedness, the sinfulness of the Church — and the deep shock over the fact that he doesn’t drop this instrument, but that he works with it; that he never ceases to show himself through and in the Church. (Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 173).
I, for one, would prefer the magic bullet treatment instead of the way of deep humiliation that leads to true humility — but that’s not the way God chose to redeem the world, and apparently it’s not the way he wills to purify the Church.
What is happening in the Catholic Church? Perhaps God is allowing the infected areas of his Body to be exposed and lanced, in order that they might be restored to health. He is applying the medicine of his Cross to human sin, so that what is unholy may be purified. He is resetting the broken bones of a battered Body — “that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed” (Heb. 12:13).
This is grace. This is Christ’s healing, bloody grace at work in the Church, bringing her and the world steadily to salvation.
Copyright 2018 Judy Klein