Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
The big discussion in the wake of this scandal is, what should we do? What can we do? Every person I encounter, online and in real life, who feels the depth of this disaster, is asking the same question. We want change. We want transparency. We want people to take ownership. We want people to recognize the scale and scope of the problem. We want a lot of things we may not get to our satisfaction. What we most want, is answers and solutions.
Our Church is in crisis, and as Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Who is going to save our Church? Not the bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops, and your religious act like religious.” It's our mission to help those who vow to serve God first, to remind them to serve God first. It's supposed to be why we give them added assistance with the business of living, so they can be about the business of praying, worshiping and serving the poor. As Pope Francis said, the shepherds should smell like the sheep. They should also know their sheep, and their sheep know them. How many of the sheep do our bishops and priests and religious know by name? It's time to stop being sheepish, and be deliberate with our lives, both with respect to our prayer lives and theirs.
How do we do this? By rediscovering the goal of our lives, and theirs; to grow in holiness and win souls. Holiness is not boring. Holiness is what we were made for — to participate in the revealing of God’s divine love for all of us and each of us. Holiness is not the exclusive purview of the clergy. Holiness is open to anyone who seeks to love God first, and their neighbors as themselves.
Holiness means living lives of self-giving. Holy people need no titles or degrees or positions. Holy people — irrespective of their employment, rank, age and power — do not cause others to sin for their own pleasure or use their authority to force others to be silent, or remain silent or look away when the innocent are harmed. Holy people act out of love, but they always act. All teachings of the Church, about anything, are manifestations of how we are to love God and love as God loves, all others — by self-giving. We are servants of love in all things, if we are to be anything.
Such life giving may be by caring for the elderly, or for a friend who suffers from a chronic condition, or by being a foster parent, or a stay-at-home parent, or the parent who longs to stay home. Our offering of our lives, whatever our status, is like the two loaves and five fishes. God will do the multiplying. The reason we do what we do, and do not do what we do not do, matters as much as the what we do or do not do. Holiness always involves self-sacrifice, and sin always involves self-indulgence. Holiness always involves being willing to surrender what the self wants for the good of the other, whereas sin demands others surrender to our will.
So while we continue to sift through the documents and watch this unfold, what can we do? Imitate the Father, imitate the Son, follow the call of the Holy Spirit, and go about the business of self-giving, so as to be salve to the souls of the world, wounded by all the sins of omission and commission.
Talk to your priests about the scandal. Ask them to talk about it. Pray with them. Pray for them. Fast for those who injured so many, and for those they harmed. Find a way to do something involving the spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy in your community, to lift some of the weight of sin, of the hearts of many or even just one, the heart of Jesus. Go to adoration and share in Christ's grief at the sufferings of His bride, and of all the souls hurt by all the sins we know about, and all the sins we don't. Pray the sorrowful mysteries with His mother.
Why should we do all these things? To practice holiness, to grow in holiness, to become saints. That’s our mission. Saints bring people to God by their words, their actions, their devotions, their prayers, their luminous witness. To fix this mess, we're going to need a lot of saints. To quote another Servant of God, “I never expected much from the bishops... I never expected leadership from them. It is the saints that keep appearing all through history that keep things going. What I do expect is the bread of life and down through the ages, there is that continuity.” —Dorothy Day.
At the end of every Mass, we are sent to bring the fragments of what we receive to the world. It’s time to get to work.