The present upheaval within the Catholic Church is arguably of historic proportion. How is the average faithful Catholic supposed to navigate his or her way through this monumental ecclesial storm?
Even amidst the formidable squall taking place right now within the Body of Christ, the Church’s Founder—who, remember is divine and can do all things— wants us, through it all, to witness to one of his most heavenly virtues and one’s of the Church’s greatest graces: spiritual peace.
“Peace? I don’t want peace, I want change.” “I’m too angry to be peaceful.” “This is not the time for spiritual platitudes, but real action.” “I’ll be peaceful when this horrific mess gets all cleaned up.”
Yes, these sentiments during our present dilemma are very understandable. Nonetheless, the Resurrected Christ says to us today exactly what he said to the apostles after the great scandal of the Cross on Good Friday and the scattering of his disciples: “Peace be with you” (cf. Jn. 20:19-23).
Along with the absolute need for true and lasting purification within the deepest recesses of the Church-human, it remains quintessentially necessary for all Catholics to witness to his divine peace in all circumstances, especially during historical times exactly such as these.
Witnessing to the peace of Christ in no way diminishes the absolute imperative for authentic Church reform. On the contrary, it assures that the purification of Church will be done His way— in the manner which most pleases the Head of the Body. It is an undeniable truth that Jesus wants the true purgation of his Church and the protection of his “innocent ones” more than any of us members.
In this light, I would like to offer the following 5 suggestions can assist Catholics to maintain their peace through the present tumultuous tempest:
1. Pray more, especially before our Eucharistic Jesus
To obtain interior peace in times of external chaos, we simply must pray more. In a special way, go to the Blessed Sacrament, adore Jesus in the Eucharist, and let Him fill your soul with His peace in the Heart-to-heart transfusion that always happens when we come and rest before our Eucharistic Lord. If a Eucharistic visit is not possible for you, then spend the time in some form of interior or contemplative prayer. Silently ponder the Lord’s promise to St. Peter, the first Pope, that “the gates of Hell would not prevail” against his Church, under any circumstances. Be assured that the Son of God always keeps his promises.
One way we can protect our peace is by being selective and balanced regarding “what” and “how much” we read of the endless commentaries and sub-narratives taking place in this crisis. Being aware of the major events taking place in the Church is a responsible and healthy pursuit; being constantly immersed in angry and vitriolic commentaries concerning every individual drama is an unnecessary and unhealthy other. Continuous submersion into enraged internet battles will not help you fulfill your duty to live peace. In general, more praying and less blogging is a good maxim this time.
2. Pray a Rosary each day for our Holy Father and for the Church
Pray a daily Rosary for the Pope and for the Church. Ask Our Lady, Mediatrix of all graces and Advocate for the People of God to intercede powerfully for the Vicar of Christ and for the Body of Christ in this volatile situation. Church history makes clear that when the ecclesial going gets tough, the Church turns to the Spiritual Mother of all Peoples, both for optimum protection and for optimum peace.
Let Mary, Mother of the Church, lead the charge to clean and build up her children, hierarchy, clergy, and laity alike. Do not underestimate the extraordinary power of the Rosary—Our Lady’s and the Church’s spiritual weapon.
3. Examine your own heart for a proper spirit of humility, fidelity, and witness to the Church
Self-examination is painful, but crucial for an authentic reform of the Church, from the top down and from the bottom up. The need for hierarchical and clerical cleansing is clear. The sexual abuse of minors and complicity or cover up regarding it constitutes “millstone category offenses,” the likes of which Jesus alludes to in one of his most frightful images (cf. Mt. 18:6), and for which the full weight of divine justice will be effected if not mitigated through contrite repentance.
On the laity’s part, they, too, must have the humility and courage to self-examine their intentions and methods in this process. We must ask of ourselves: Are my actions primarily motivated by a spirit of impassioned anger, similar to the mobs of French Revolution, who sought “heads to roll and blood to be spilt” for past crimes? Or are my actions motivated by Christ’s spirit of humility, fidelity, justice, and peace, which in themselves intrinsically demand for substantial change and effective accountability for the grave evils which have been continuing within the Church? Jesus wants the latter; his adversary hopes for the former. Don’t give in to the anger. This in-house cleaning must be done Jesus’ way— in justice and in peace.
4. Remain obedient to the teachings of Christ’s Vicar and respectful to the Office of Peter
The Second Vatican Council teaches that all Catholics are obliged to offer a religious submission of intellect and will to the manifest mind of the Pope, even when he is not speaking ex-cathedra (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 25). To be Catholic is obey the Holy Father when he teaches officially in the area of faith and morals.
As Jesus certainly calls all Christians to treat all human beings with respect, this must in a special way apply to the human being who holds the Chair of Peter. While popes are “infallible” (cannot err in faith in morals under the proper conditions), they are not “impeccable” (therefore, do sin and make mistakes). We must not then be surprised when popes sin or make prudential errors, and should be quick to offer the forgiveness that the Heavenly Father requires of all of us for own many sins to be forgiven.
This is in no sense to imply that all the recent accusations being circulated against Pope Francis are true. Several accusations have already been proven to be false. If our Christian responsibility calls us to give every human being the benefit of the doubt and presume innocence until proven guilty, how much more do we owe this respect to the Vicar of Christ?
Moreover, the use of public media to foster public campaigns against the Papal Magisterium is clearly discouraged by Cardinal Ratzinger in his outstanding 1990 document to theologians, Donum Veritatis (cf. DV 27, 30). The use, therefore, of the public forum and mass media by any Catholic to critique Pope Francis and call for his resignation seem to run counter to the principles set forth in this Vatican instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
How strange and sad it is to hear groups of Catholics discussing whether or not they will choose to obey the Pope or not. A Protestant Christian on overhearing such a conversation, might well respond, “Wait a minute, I’m confused—I thought that’s what made you a Catholic?”
Even the word, “schism” has been recklessly bantered about. “Schism” is a very bad word in the language and life of the Church. It signifies a historical catastrophe for the Body of Christ. Schism tears at the very Heart of Jesus, who has prayed and has died for our unity (cf. Jn. 17:21). Any cardinal, bishop, priest, religious, or lay person, who sees that their intentions or actions are effectively contributing towards a schism by supporting an ecclesial separation from Jesus’ validly elected representative on earth whom we call, “Pope,” should please stop immediately. No Catholic wants to face Jesus at the time of judgment and have to tearfully admit “I wanted and worked for a separation from your Vicar on earth which led to the tearing of your Body.”
St. John Bosco, in his profoundly simple teaching to the youth, stated that three things make up what can be referred to as the “Catholic Triangle”: Belief in the Eucharist, devotion to Our Lady, and obedience to the Holy Father. Fellow Catholics, remain in the Catholic Triangle— remain obedient and loyal to the Vicar of Christ.
5. Keep your Joy
While the Church and its members must patiently undergo this purgation, we must also continue to attract and draw souls into the Church for their salvation. We call this the “New Evangelization.” Here’s an important reality check: No one wants to join a quarrelling, cranky, finger pointing, depressed, and angry church.
How do we keep our joy through such a painful and turbulent time? Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit that can be maintained, as the great St. Francis tells us, in any circumstance (even when it is not done with “perfect joy” that he mastered). Joy is the spiritual fruit of greater faith, prayer, fasting, and conversion, and peace. Joy is the first cousin to Peace.
Yes, even while this necessary purification is taking place (and be honestly forewarned, it will take some time), we must still witness daily to Jesus by manifesting the ultimate magnet for converts –our Christian joy. If they can see true joy in our eyes and in our lives, in spite of the ecclesial storm which is upon us, then we even more profoundly witness to what the true Church of Jesus Christ is really supposed to look like.
Ultimately, dear brothers and sisters in Jesus and Mary, with the grace of Christ, we can do this. We can both keep our peace and positively contribute to the critical need for purification in our Church. The saints longed for times like this— not in itself, but in the opportunity to witness heroically to our Crucified Lord, who has taught us how to suffer well as Christians.
Whether we long for times like this or not, the reality is— we’re here. Let’s act like saints in progress: Remain obedient to Pope Francis, pray and fast for the Church, keep a humble heart, and smile. The ultimate victory of the Church awaits us.
Ultimately, we must entrust this entire process of the purification of the Body of Christ to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Why Mary?
Mary gave Jesus his body. Mary was the first to wash the body of Jesus as an infant. Mary alone (whom St. Bonaventure called the “Purgatrix,”) can guide this purification process in the way that will lead both to the most thorough purgation possible, but at the same with a maternal and feminine hand that will do no true harm to the Body itself.
O Mary, Immaculate Mother of the Church, Mediatrix of all graces, purify and protect the Body of your Son on earth today.
Dr. Mark Miravalle Dr. Mark Miravalle holds the St. John Paul II Chair of Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is President of the International Marian Association.