Monday, January 7, 2019

Keeping the faith when things seem to be falling apart.

Before I get to the ‘meat and potatoes’ of this week’s blog entry, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the many readers who took pains and made great effort to respond to my request which I made last week to give me suggestions as to how I should maintain this blog this year.  There were indeed many and varied comments and suggestions that came to my inbox, some sent personally to me, some via the comments page of the blog itself, and others as comments that followed the blog post that I put up on social media. These will definitely come in handy, giving me little reason to experience a dearth of material to ruminate. 

One of the very practical and pertinent questions that I was asked by one of my readers was how to keep the faith amidst the sea of scandal that Holy Mother Church has been mired in within the past year.  It is not that I have side-stepped the issue at all.  In fact, I did refer to it in passing in a blog post in September last year, but it was not a post that dealt directly with the sex abuse/pedophile scandal of the Church, coupled with the way the higher ups had handled the entire matter, which made headlines all over the world. CNN has called 2018 the Church’s year from hell, as it may well have been.  One could justify saying that 2018 was a annus horribilus for the Church.

In the face of this awful and evil scandal, it is a very necessary and pertinent question to ask how a Catholic who wants to be faithful and who strives for holiness in life continue to pursue a life of virtue when the upper echelons have failed, and failed so miserably? 

In truth, there are two main categories of people who are affected by this scandal.  The first would be the victims of abuse themselves.  One would have to have a heart of stone to not feel sympathy for their having been subjected to such injury and assault, and by people who were supposed to be held in high esteem and regard.  Unless one has direct access to them, it will be very challenging to minister to them on a personal basis.  There have been, understandably, many reports of these victims having left the faith with much disillusionment and anger, and they have every right to feel the way they do.  But as Church, we can and should be praying for their healing and their peace, despite not knowing them personally.  

The other category of people who are affected by the scandal can well be you, the reader of this reflection. This forms the much larger body of the faithful who are hurt, confused, angry and infuriated with the way the upper echelons have chosen to deal with the scandal the way they did.  And many of you may have wondered how and why we as Catholics should continue practicing the faith the way it has been taught and handed down by the Magisterium.

The first thing to remember is that our faith is in God more than it is in an institution called the Church. Yes, the Church is God’s chosen medium of how God’s grace is given to the faithful, ministered through human beings who act in persona Christi in the celebration of the Sacraments.  And because God uses human persons, there is always going to be a possibility of these human persons having a weak and frail response to minister in a way that isn’t as full and loving as it ought to be. As much as the Church is led by the Holy Spirit, it is also led by men and women who are in need of grace, mercy and salvation.  That God has chosen to meet us through the medium of his Church is mystery, akin to God giving us salvation through his incarnation in Jesus Christ.  

It is not an excuse that I am giving in this blog for the heinous and egregious sins of the hierarchy. Rather, it is a highlighting of the fact that human beings are always open to weaknesses, and as much as there are fallen leaders in the Church, there are also ministers who are faithful and who strive to live to the high standards they are called to.  Would that all who are called to ministry be always living to those standards in a responsive, selfless and loving way.  In a recent priestly ordination, the presiding bishop remarked that there are so many different kinds of priests out there, and that the priest-to-be who was standing in front of him needs to be alert to learn from and to model himself after the right ones.  It really is reducible to the freedom of each person, and how one chooses to exercise this freedom in love.

It isn’t just the priests or the hierarchy that is called to exercise a freedom wisely.  This call is to all the faithful as well.  In the case of a Church hierarchy that has transgressed in ways abominable, the laity is also called to exercise this freedom to not be scandalized by the human leaders who have failed them, but rather, to still be faithful to God who hasn’t failed them, and who will not fail them.  

It takes a great activation of one’s faith to, in this case, separate the broken Church from a God who has broken himself out of love, and to put one’s faith in the fact that the Holy Spirit is still leading the Church despite its flaws and shortcomings.  By no means am I advocating that anyone should just up and leave the Church.  

When the Church encountered persecutions in her 2000 years of history, good has resulted, albeit through a process. Through persecutions, the faith of the people have often been purified, forged and become stronger, though it has always taken a process involving a long period of time.  Yes, the Church has made terrible mistakes and has shown the awful truth that power can really corrupt in our generation.  It has, in a sense, persecuted itself in this case.  Admittedly, these self-inflicted wounds have been deep and injurious.  

“Can any good come out of this?” one may ask.  Strange as it may seem, I sincerely believe it can, simply because as much as the Church is made up of fallible men and women, it is also God’s chosen instrument to lead, form and guide the faithful, and there will always be men and women who are truly seeking holiness and sanctification in and through their very own lives.  These are the front line soldiers who fight on in the Church Militant despite the generals not being in top physical or spiritual form.  The presence of these true ambassadors of Christ, remaining faithful and true to their vocations are good reason enough to believe that God is still empowering the Church with his Holy Spirit.  Besides, don't we at every Mass, after praying the Lord's Prayer, hear the words of the celebrant saying "look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church"?  These words are so important to reflect on especially in these rocky times for all of us.

These blog reflections of mine really have one purpose – to guide and strengthen the faith of those who take the trouble to spend time to read and be formed by them.  This topic is one that is very sensitive and could even be divisive.  

Just as it is always easier to pray in a Church that is clean, bright, well designed and aesthetically pleasing, so too is it easier to be part of a Church that is morally upright, leading by positive examples and righteous in all aspects.  But faith isn’t meant to be easy, and an easy faith may not develop our virtue.  The activation of faith does ask that we love what is not easy, and in a situation that is not comfortable.  Just as it is easy for a married couple to love one another in good times, it is far more important to stay loving in bad times.  This shows a willingness to love for the sake of the other.  

As members of the faithful, I strongly believe that your staying in the faith despite the transgressions of weak leaders is what will purify the Church.  It is also my personal reason to still set my bar high for holiness and sanctification, and I pray it will be yours as well.

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