Ash Wednesday is coming, but it feels like it’s already Lent. We’re constantly learning of new examples of abuse and cover up, we’re still just beginning to address the systemic issue of behavior in violation of all the vows one makes to become a priest, let alone, a bishop or a cardinal. It isn’t just the sin of lust that injures the Body of Christ, it’s the lies — it’s the hypocrisy, it’s the shuffling of people so that no one ever is held accountable for their behavior. It’s the decades of sin, of abuse of power. It’s the silence.

All these things together mean that people in positions of authority, who speak from the altar, have not been faithful in big things —which makes one wonder, have they been faithful in small ones? How else might they have been unfaithful? How might others have been unfaithful, emboldened as sin does to sinners, by the unfaithfulness of others?

What do these priests who abused nuns in India, these priests who abused deaf children in Argentina, and these priests who abused minors and adults in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, New York, and every other diocese where names have been listed, every place where clergy have been credibly accused, believe?

Do they believe in sin? Do they believe in consequences for sin? Do they believe what they say when they hold the Holy Eucharist? Are they Catholic? Or, is the creed merely a means to an end, namely a profession which allows for access and accords with it (up until recently) instant respect? Peopled died for the creed. Now, our creed seems like a quaint relic of a religion transformed into a mechanism for power, prestige, wealth and security. All our actions, all our good, gets stomped over by the evils we keep discovering that have been done at the same time.

So if anything comes out of the summit at the Vatican, it should be a sign to the world that the bishops, priests, cardinals and the Pope, all those who act as key instructors and administrators of this Body, understand and acknowledge how deeply the whole body has been wounded. If they want to begin the hard process of reform, it needs to begin with the whole body remembering that — irrespective of our vocation — Christ always calls us beyond our wants, beyond our needs, beyond our appetites, beyond our ambitions, beyond our own goals.

Christ always calls us deeper in, and to serve more. Christ also always wants us to respond to His call to grace. We the people need to see this represented in the physical actions of our Church leaders, both for the Church as a whole, and for the world that is watching, to see if we will do something other than talk — to show that we really are serious about the integrity of the soul, of every soul, which requires that we repent from all sins.

We need our priests, our bishops, our cardinals, our pope, to engage in a unified symbolic act of penance, of reparations for all the injuries done by those wearing the same garb, against all of us by these illegal, immoral, destructive self-indulgent acts of betrayal — the same way a wronged spouse must receive from the unfaithful spouse, visible signs of repentance, remorse and reform. We need to know the clergy stand with the laity, that we are one Church, and that they will be shepherds, good shepherds, who lay down their lives for the flock.

The rest of us, the flock, should perhaps do the same for our shepherds — praying, fasting, wearing a crucifix perhaps, as a reminder, that we are the Body of Christ, so we recognize that every sin is a nail or a splinter or a thorn, and that our whole job is to be something of comfort to every soul that suffers. Our whole mission, irrespective of our vocation, is to bring Christ to others, and others to Christ, which we cannot do if we’re engaged in sin. We can do it only if we’re cooperating with grace.