Fighting Scandals and Spirits

BlaiLike so many, I’ve been watching the unfolding of events surrounding the release of the PA grand jury report, and the subsequent response of laity and clergy alike. One aspect of the scandal that has been particularly tough to stomach is the revelation (to me at least) is the prevalence of sexually active clergy (both gay and straight) that has short-circuited the spiritual authority of the Church, reducing men who should have been warriors and spiritual fathers to weak and ineffectual CEOs fluent in empty assurances who would rather meet than lead. What are we to do? So far, even the Vatican has been distressingly silent on the matter. How are we to separate the sheep from the goats, and restore the moral authority of our leaders?

In the seventh chapter of Judges, the Lord gives Gideon the blueprint for raising the army that would conquer their feared enemies, the Midianites. “The LORD said to Gideon: You have too many soldiers with you for me to deliver Midian into their power, lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, ‘My own power saved me.’” (Judges 7:2). After reducing the company of 22,000 soldiers to 300 stalwart, brave men, the Lord delivered into the hands of the Israelites not just the two princes of Midian, but all their troops as well. Reading this story, it seemed to me that a similar winnowing process is in store for the Church. The Lord needs not thousands of “career soldiers” who will let down their guard and seek to their own comfort, but a handful of faithful, vigilant warriors in order to take back the ground the enemy has occupied.

But how? It wasn’t until I picked up and began reading this book by Adam Blai that both the reason for this standoff and its path of resolution began to take shape. His book  Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms (Emmaus) offers insights into the spirit world and articulates the rules that govern demons, malevolent spirits that roam the earth as fallen angels. Reading between the lines (he does not directly reference the scandals), Blai provides sobering insights about how we got to where we are today … and what needs to happen for our leaders to become instruments in the hands of God that will purify his Bride.

Reading this book, I was reminded of two spiritual principles that go to the heart of the current crisis: First, that darkness and hiddenness — including self-deception and rationalization — are among the devil’s most powerful tools. Second, it is those who are most ardently pursuing God who are most likely to draw the devil’s fire. Blai reminds us in his reflection on the book of Job.

The Book of Job has two clear lessons: God is all-powerful and cannot be hindered, and the Devil has to ask permission from God for everything he does. We see that both temptation and trials come from Satan, but it is God’s protection and decrees which are important, not the Devil… People, particularly people the most committed to God, are targeted by the Devil and God allows them to be tested. We see this play out in the life of Job and in the lives of many of the saints, who are often tested fiercely by the Devil as they draw closer to God. The end reward of this struggle is the restoration of all that Satan was allowed to wound, and abundant graces beyond that in the form of an eternal life in heaven with God. (p.112-113, emphasis mine).

So … what is the pathway to healing? Ultimately, lasting justice will not be found through our legal system (though this may be the means by which the full extent of the problem must come to light). The Bride of Christ, deeply wounded by the sins of her representatives, can never be healed through a temporal legal process, by compensating victims, or by placating the public. It will come only through the winnowing of the army of the Lord so that, purified and disciplined, they are ready to serve the Bride with humility and devotion, even unto death. They must seek out the wounded, and show them the mercy of God until they open their hearts to God for healing and to find the peace they seek through the grace of forgiveness.

Healing will come when those called to be on the front lines of this great spiritual war stand up and fight to take back the ground that has been occupied by the enemy. These warriors must embrace the principles of discipline and authentic love, and refuse to give the devil the tiniest foothold through moral compromise. Only then can they make themselves battle ready, and move forward to resist the enemy at the prompting of God himself, as we read in Ephesians 6.

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:13-17).

Come, Lord Jesus, pour forth your spirit, and renew the face of the earth. Give us courage to persevere, even to the shedding of blood, to bring your light to the darkest places of the world, and to restore the glory of your Kingdom. Jesus, we trust in you.

Mother Mary, embolden your children for battle, that we might imitate you by resisting evil and crushing the serpent’s head. Take every priest to your Immaculate Heart, and enkindle in each of them the courage of a lion and the humility of a dove. Cover them with your mantle, and protect them from evil. Give them hearts of purest love, the most powerful and irresistible force in the universe.

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Gladys Aylward: A Heart for China

Last week I had the chance to speak to a group of local women — and my mother, who had never heard me speak in public until then — about a group of women I’ve come to regard as my spiritual mothers: Women whose example led me, as surely as Moses led the Chosen People to the Promised Land, to where I am today. They (clockwise from upper left): My confirmation namesake, Amy Carmichael; Gertrude “Biddy” Chambers, widow of Oswald Chambers; Gladys Aylward; Mother Teresa; Elisabeth Elliot; and Corrie. ten Boom. (I’ve linked each of their names to my favorite books by or about them, in case you’d like to learn more.)

Like Moses, most of them did not “cross over,” as I did, into the Catholic Church (Mother Teresa is the only professed Catholic among them). And yet, each of them left an indelible stamp upon my spirit through their lives and writings.

Tonight mom and I finished reading the book about Gladys Aylward, the British missionary to China (1902-1970), whose story was retold (with great liberties) in the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman. After twenty years preaching the Gospel to teems of people suffering under Communist oppression, she felt the Lord call her back home. At first she was incredulous — she had by that time become a Chinese citizen, dressing like them, eating like them, even thinking like them. And yet, she said,

“England, seemingly so prosperous while other countries passed through terrible suffering at the hands of Communist domination, had forgotten what was all-important — the realization that God mattered in the life of a nation no less than in that of an individual…. I knew that I must go back to the land of my birth. I must return to do what I could to dispel the spiritual lethargy that had overtaken so many. I must testify to the great faith of the Chinese church. I must let people know what great things God has done for me” (The Little Woman, 136).

This was nearly fifty years ago, and yet not much has changed. The “underground” Church of faithful Christians continues to suffer and to struggle, and even to die.

Pray with me for the Holy Father, for the Christians in China … and for all those on the front lines, who seek to ease the suffering of the “least of these” who continue to suffer simply for naming the Blessed Name. Mother Gladys, pray for us, that we might not be afraid to stand with your beloved people.

Another much admired figure, from the Civil War era at Notre Dame, I’d like to write about one day: Sister Angela Gillespie.

Holy Thursday: In Support of Priests

On Holy Thursday every year, priests celebrate two events in the life of Christ: The institution of the Eucharist, and the establishment of Holy Orders (the priesthood).

Today Kate Wicker passed along this outstanding article by (non-Catholic) Penn State religious studies professor Philip Jenkins regarding his new book, “Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis.”  Jenkins says, in part:

No one can deny that Boston church authorities committed dreadful errors, but at the same time, the story is not quite the simple tale of good and evil that it sometime appears. Hard though it may be to believe right now, the “pedophile priest” scandal is nothing like as sinister as it has been painted — or at least, it should not be used to launch blanket accusations against the Catholic Church as a whole.

As Jenkins point out, the vast majority of priests are godly men — and Catholic priests, statistically speaking, are far less likely to offend than other kinds of religious leaders and public servants. (That celibacy has nothing to do with the likelihood of predatory behavior, despite public assumptions to the contrary, is affirmed by the fact that the vast majority of sexual abuse in children occurs at home.) However, the Church is an easy (and much hated, in many circles, for reasons that have nothing to do with the scandal) target.

Jenkin’s book sounds like an excellent resource for those who remain faithful Catholics, and wish to respond constructively to those who speak disrespectfully of Catholicism in general — and the Holy Father in particular.

Years ago my good friend, Monsignor Clement Connelly, observed, “Purification is painful, but it s necessary.” The fact that 98% of all priests are godly men who have never abused a child, does not negate the fact that the remaining 2% (if that is the right number) must not be shielded from the consequences of their criminal actions, any more than Judas was exhonorated.

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ our Lord.”  The men who betray their calling — including and perhaps especially those who died before charges were brought — will not escape judgment. At the same time, justice is not served by unilaterally condemning an entire group of people because of the actions of a few.  In our society, “tolerance” is a cardinal virtue. It is time that this principle be applied, informly and fairly, to the Catholic Church as well.