Faithful Catholics, Time To Take Action

It is fair to say that we Catholics are in the middle of the most terrible church crisis in American history. A couple of weeks ago the Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed devastating, disgusting and demonic accounts of sexual abuse of minors by priests in Pennsylvania. The internal church documents that the grand jury reviewed contained “credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests” in six PA dioceses. I didn’t need to read very far into the report before being sick to my stomach and outraged for these victims whose lives have been shattered. The most grave injustice is the concealment of these acts and priests by the Church officials and bishops whose primary motive was preventing scandal.

Well that is over. The silence and cover-up is ending. It’s all coming out. But Catholics, prepare yourselves, because that report was from just one state! We need investigations of every diocese and every bishop. If true reform is going to happened, then we have to uncover all that has been hidden and every bishop who took part in the cover-up of abuse at the hands of clergy. And that’s going to be a lot of people, as indicated by the most recent bombshell of testimony released by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò on August 24. If you have not done so already, read the 11-page document that details the Cardinal McCarrick scandal and who knew about his disgusting behavior. Viganò’s testimony seems highly credible, and if it’s true, then every Catholic should be calling for Pope Francis to resign along with all the bishops responsible for turning blind eyes to McCarrick’s behavior, which includes Cardinal Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor in the Washington Archdiocese.

When I say every Catholic, I mean every Catholic. I mean me and you; I mean my parish priest and yours. We are the ones who must fight for these victims and fight for our Church to be rid of this evil. Journalist Rod Dreher covered the priest abuse scandal in Boston years back, and his discovery of the depth of the cover-up caused him to leave the Catholic Church. In one of Dreher’s recent posts on the current crisis he said that he knew how compromised many of the bishops were, and he came to a devastating realization:

“…the ‘good bishops’ — those who actually believed what the Catholic Church taught, and who lived chastely and celibately — were ultimately never going to criticize their brother bishops or take any risks to talk openly and frankly about the crisis. I was faced with the unavoidable conclusion that nothing serious was going to change in the Church, and that I had to accept that as a Catholic.

The laity, by and large, did not care. They were satisfied to believe the bishops’ reassurances that they (the bishops) were on top of things, and were leading the Church to a better place.”

Dreher left the Catholic Church because of the inaction of two groups of people: faithful bishops and faithful laity. And I’m saying, no more. Faithful Catholics — Bishops, priests and lay people — it is time to take action and fight for the cleansing of your church in America (and around the world). And make no mistake, this will be a fight. It will require some sacrifice of you — more than your prayers and fasting (which we must continue). It will require a sacrifice of your time, your comfort, your relationships. It will require you to make repeated phone calls and send letters. It will require you to hold a sign and stand in a protest until change occurs. You don’t have the option of not having an opinion or not knowing what to think or do. Start with one small action, and God will help you multiply it.

A couple of days ago Bishop Robert Barron posted a video on the Church scandals, expressing why we need to fight. He reminds us that we all have a prophetic role as baptized members of the body of Christ. I encourage you, as Bishop Barron says, take action in your role as prophet right now. You and I are the ones to stand up and fight for the church and be the church — to stand in the gap for those victims of this terrible abuse and stop at nothing short of complete cleansing and reform in the Catholic Church.

If you are ready for the fight, I have some tools and action items for you:

  1. Start locally in your diocese — meet with your parish priest and ask him to take a public stand against bishops who have been part of the cover-up, especially if your bishop is one of them. I am part of the Washington Archdiocese; so that means that I will be calling for Cardinal Wuerl to resign and asking my priest to join the voices of other courageous priests in our diocese publicly declaring the same. If your priest is justifying the behavior of silence and cover-up; it’s time for you to be prophetic in your parish. Your ministry role might be taken away; you might not be his favorite person anymore — let it be. Fight the good fight, because nothing you lose will be of eternal significance. In fact, your own inaction actually makes you complicit and culpable.
  2. Pick up your phone — repeatedly! Call the pastoral center (bishop’s office) in every diocese (starting with yours) where there is a bishop who has failed to shepherd the flock, is lying to cover his back, or is offering justification for his behavior or “record.” State your name and parish, and clearly communicate your demand that the bishop resign. Set a reminder on your phone, and repeat that phone call weekly. Can you imagine what it will be like for a bishop to have his phone ringing off the hook with requests for his resignation? If you are in the Washington Archdiocese like me, you need to be calling Cardinal Wuerl’s office with this message…repeatedly. Oh, and you can also let him know that he won’t be getting one cent from you for his annual Cardinal’s appeal this year.
  3. Send letters — Send letters to your diocese, the USCCB, and the Vatican repeatedly. Demand resignations where appropriate, and also petition total transparency and open investigations to reveal all past cover-ups and credible allegations that have been made against priests, teachers, or anyone else working with children in Catholic institutions. The Siena Project has created templates that make this incredibly easy for you.
  4. Protest publicly — Join public protests at compromised bishops’ residences and pastoral offices. This is where you sacrifice your time. Give up part of your Saturdays to make your voice heard. Ask yourself how much renewing the Church and ridding it of this evil should mean to you, and sacrifice accordingly.

Plenty of people are saying, with Rod Dreher, that nothing will ever change. But if that is the case, then that means faithful Catholic priests and lay people have failed to act — because we outnumber the corrupt, unfaithful ones! Don’t be part of the failure of the Church; be part of her renewal. Be a St. Catherine of Siena, a St. Thomas More, a St. Francis de Sales — be like the saints throughout the centuries whose actions contributed to the Church forcefully advancing. Fight for your church, and don’t stop fighting! May God give us the desire and strength to do his will and resist the terrible sin of apathy and sloth. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

Expectations Fashioned by Love

It’s that time of year…back to school, back to a different routine than the one summer allowed. And with this season of fresh starts grows a long list of expectations. I’m a planner, and maybe you are too. But whether or not you enjoy schedules and routines, I’ll bet you have you own set of expectations about any new season of life. Here’s the thing about our expectations: they have the tendency to set us in opposition to the world, others, and God when they aren’t met.

We instinctively know this, yet the desire for the elusive security they offer prevents us from learning from our past dedication to them. When life and the behavior of others goes contrary to what we have envisioned, we are disappointed — sometimes rightly so. But even when our disappoint is justified, reasonable, where does that leave us? Expectations are of no ultimate good to us unless they are fashioned by love, by the one who is Love.

What does that look like though?

I came across a great quote the other day from St. Teresa of Calcutta:

“Be kind and merciful. Let no one ever come to you without coming away better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness.”

Kindness. Mercy. These fruits of the Spirit may keep our expectations from ruling our emotions. When our highest daily goal is to extend kindness and mercy to each life we contact, then we will have a plan for our reaction when all other plans have fallen apart. But I’m learning that authentic kindness and the extension of mercy toward others only comes from humility. Humility recognizes our own brokenness, the realization that we too are incapable of meeting expectations. Mercy is possible and abundant when we don’t see people as “other,” when we have a clear perspective that we are all equally in need of mercy.

I think another important mental shift is to see people, particularly the ones placed in our daily lives through divine providence, as our primary mission in life. Loving people — this is our number one job description. It is more challenging for some personalities than others…not because some personalities are less loving, but because they are quite aware of tasks that need to be accomplished. (Ahem. I might know a little something about this.) If we are too focused on the game plan, on how things ought to play out, then we miss the opportunity for calling an audible. Basically, we miss an opportunity to show love, extend mercy, and (as St. Teresa said) have people come away from you better and happier.

Thank goodness for the grace of a new day. Scripture reminds us, “His mercies are new every morning.” So that means that our mercy can be renewed every morning as well. It’s never too late to let go of what we thought we wanted and accept what God is placing before us in that moment. It won’t be our inclination at first, but we won’t regret showing mercy, kindness and love. And after awhile, we will find ourselves less disappointed by unmet expectations, less inconvenienced by the opportunity to “be the living expression of God’s kindness.”

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

More “Real” Than Real

We live in a culture that is ultimately material. By that I mean that what is considered most “real” is that which can be experienced with our five physical senses. What we can see, hear, taste, smell and feel is what is real to us. Essentially, that means that what we observe in the natural world and what we have feelings and impulses toward are the only things that exist. Of course those things are real, and yes we experience them in the natural world. But where does that leave us with the question of the supernatural, the order of things not apparent to our physical senses, the truth and reality that is actually happening in the everyday life of the Spirit?

We say that we believe in God and the supernatural world; but unfortunately, many Christians today behave as mere materialists, interpreting their faith and the spiritual life solely within the dimension of the natural, material world. However, there is an ultimate reality — something more real than the reality known to our physical senses — in which we can participate, and I believe that the sacraments of the church are the daily means by which we live in that reality. In fact, the sacraments reveal that ultimate reality to us, as if lifting the veil to expose the full picture of God’s love and redemption story for all of creation.

What reality is revealed?

A sacrament is “the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation,” and the Church’s Catechism explains how God has gifted us with signs observable to our senses that allow us to participate in a reality that exists beyond those physical senses:

“The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a ‘sacrament.'” (CCC 774)

So within a sacrament something is actually happening in the spiritual life. This revelation certainly contributed to me becoming Catholic, and it daily awakens me to what is most real. I will give you a couple of examples of this deeper level of reality, what is actually happening, when we participate in the sacraments. I have been pondering the reality of three sacraments in particular recently: Baptism, Marriage, and the Eucharist.

Baptism — For some people Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation have become merely symbolic “events” worthy of photo shoots and parties afterward. Have we lost sight of what is really happening? Through the anointing oil, prayer of exorcism, and the cleansing holy waters poured on the child, the stain of original sin is being wiped away. This soul is entering into the life of the Church and beginning a pilgrimage in which those witnessing souls are also participating. Remember those Oxi Clean commercials? It’s like spiritual Oxi Clean for the soul! The dirt of original sin is literally removed to reveal a whiter than white fresh soul ready to begin that spiritual journey. But if you are only looking with your eyes you won’t see what is actually taking place right there in that moment in our time.

Marriage — Why is being married in the Church and according to her canon law so important? Because what is actually taking place when it is a sacramental marriage is nothing like a contractual agreement that may at some point in time be dissolved. When the two become one flesh something very real has happened in the spiritual lives of both of those people that impacts completely their physical lives and reality from that point forward. They are suddenly knit together, responsible for helping each other journey to heaven. In fact, the vocation of their marriage is the way God is choosing to sanctify them and make them holy. My husband is not just my companion, my partner in life, my lover — at that altar and in that sacrament he (with all of his flaws and charisms) became the person in this life that will participate in the sanctification of my soul. Mind-blowing. Awesome. Overwhelming.

The Eucharist — Maybe this one is both the most obvious and the hardest to comprehend at the same time. To my physical sense I am eating bread and drinking wine. If I approach that bread and wine as a symbol, I’m not acknowledging that something transformational is taking place. I must realize that I am taking the real presence of Christ into my own body, and that phenomenon radically changes me and spiritually sustains me with graces. That moment of consecration on the altar is not just some ritual; the most ultimate and supernatural reality is taking place before our eyes in every mass! Christ is offering himself for us, to sustain us on our earthly journey. When we enter into that reality — when we get that — we will only be able to participate with total reverence and awe, and our daily living will be sustained like never before.

How do we “sense” this ultimate reality?

If this is the realness that we can live in, then how do we then experience this ultimate reality that is always present with us? As human beings created in the image of God, we have been gifted with a sixth sense — the religious sense.  The Catechism describes this religious sense in several places as the “supernatural sense of faith” (CCC 91-93, 889). Faith is one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope & love). Through the eyes of faith we are able to see our lives, the lives of others, and the world in which we live in a supernatural dimension — we are able to perceive what is most real, the ultimate reality available to us in the spiritual life. We access these eyes of faith, this religious sense, through grace; as with everything in the spiritual life, it is a gift.

But human agency is always a factor. Are we living in a way that opens ourselves up to that gift of faith? Are we taking part in the gift of the sacraments? Have we let patterns of behavior and distractions blur our vision and numb our religious sense? If so, we may find that we are merely living material lives day in and day out. But this will not satisfy. This is not the abundant life that Jesus speaks of in John 10:10. We must foster the religious sense if we want to live in the ultimate reality and be fully alive.


Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey