Yesterday I commented on the phenomenon of seemingly good spiritual fruit coming from questionable sources in the Church. Today, I would like to offer a few biblical observations to help us make more sense of this situation as lay Catholics.
(1) As St. Paul writes, “Test everything; retain what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). At least for me, it’s a real temptation to want to put people or groups into boxes, “good guys” over here and the “bad guys” over there. The “bad guys” are presumptively wrong about everything, and the “good guys” get a pass.
This really amounts to a rationalization to stop listening and to stop discerning. Scripture says to test everything. Whatever the source, we need to listen and observe critically–not in the sense of tearing down or being unduly “critical,” but in the sense of relentlessly looking for what is true and good in everyone and everything.
(2) The kingdom of heaven is like a wheat field (Mt. 13:24-30). We know that the Evil One has sown weeds which are all around us. None of us in this life are totally immune from the “mystery of evil.” There are weeds among the wheat within ourselves and within the Church and world.
Given this basic truth about the human condition, we cannot reasonably expect to find a person, family, parish, apostolate, community, or diocese that doesn’t have any “weeds.” The simultaneous presence of weeds and wheat in our midst should give us a balanced outlook: The presence of wheat should prevent us from being scandalized or discouraged by the weeds, and the presence of weeds should keep us from becoming complacent. We do our best to remain faithful, knowing that at harvest time Our Lord will definitively sort everything out.
(3) We understand that the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity have God alone as their origin, motive, and object (Catechism, no. 1840). Because of this, St. Paul can refer to the “hope that does not disappoint” (Rom. 5:5), because God is ever faithful and won’t let us down. Further, faith, hope, and charity prepare us well for spiritual battle. “Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8; see also Eph. 6:10-17).
We know this to be true, but perhaps subconsciously we depend too heavily on our association with “good people” and “good organizations” rather than our own personal growth in the theological virtues. If we do that, we’re bound to be disappointed.
The object of our faith and trust is God alone, and only in Him is our soul at rest (Ps. 62). An important corollary is that the grave misconduct of some people in the Church should not “scandalize” us in the strict sense of leading us to abandon our faith. If it does, maybe our faith was misdirected in the first place.
(4) God is able to bring good out of every situation (see Rom. 8:28). Do we really believe that? Do we take the time to “see” it?
After all, we’re not talking about a God who sits back and says with a shrug, “Well, you win some and you lose some.” Rather, through His redemptive Incarnation, He came looking for us, in order to share His own life and happiness with all of us. And as He saves us, one sinner at a time, there is great rejoicing in heaven.
If all that is true, then surely God does not let the sins and shortcomings of people and institutions in His Church have the last word.
(5) Jesus Christ is the “truth” (Jn. 14:6). Therefore, there is something inherently “unchristian” in denying unpleasant realities, engaging in “cover ups,” or wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses. Jesus said “repent!”, not “deny!” or “repress!”
Criminals must be prosecuted, frauds must be exposed, error must be corrected. The motive is not primarily retribution, but charity. We must be “convicted” of our sins so that we will turn to the Lord and seek His saving mercy. As “ambassadors for Christ” and “ministers of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-20), the truth must always be a plowshare, not a sword (Is. 2:4), opening hearts, not wounds.
All five of these principles presuppose our ongoing formation in the truths of our Catholic faith in unity with the Holy Father and the Church, nourished through prayer and the sacraments. That’s why we’re “Catholics United for the Faith.” The person and teachings of Jesus Christ, communicated to every generation through the Church, is truly our source of unity and the solid rock on which we build our lives.