So the sex abuse scandal in the Church is an absolute, world historic, hellish mess of tragedy, betrayal, hurt, and confusion. Lots of people in and out of the Church are furious; the bishops are (at top Ent speed) scrambling; and there's a lot of talk right now about reform, renewal, and how to get there. I even threw in my two cents on a few things.
But one key, essential element that's not necessarily being remembered in the midst of the mess is this: In the life of the Church, true, lasting, transformative reform comes about through the grace, inspiration, and strength of the Holy Spirit, or it doesn't happen at all.
The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, after all. And yes, that can sound all too abstract and metaphorical. It's easy to believe that references to prayer, grace, and the Sacraments are all a subtle way of saying, "Laity, sit down, shut up, and keep praying, paying, and obeying. Be good little sheep. Don't do anything to rock the boat."
Yeah. That's an incredibly secular read on the call to prayer.
Karl Marx thought religion was the opiate of the masses, when in reality, it's more like medicine that heals, energizes, transforms. It makes us superhuman, because it opens us up to the divine life, to grace and God, to live and love with the strength from beyond the stars. It's all part of sanctification, of making us saints, which is to say making us sons and daughters of the loving God, which means more than human. Superhuman. Divinized.
Prayer can certainly calm a storm, it's true, but it can also kick up a storm. It can work like Jesus rebuking the storm in the boat, or it can work like Moses praying to God, and God sending the plagues on the Egyptians. Prayer can send off accusers, or prayer can raise up accusers pursuing justice.
Prayer is powerful, as powerful as the One who is receiving the prayers, as powerful as the Being sustaining the universe, as strong as Love, as Truth, as Goodness, as Beauty. Prayer brings justice and peace, which means mercy and goodness. Prayer invites in light and love. Prayer sets us free.
Prayer is, at its best, saying, "I love You, God, and I trust You. Come in. Do whatever You will." That's the most powerful prayer--not my will be done, but Thy will be done. Not begging for the outcome that I believe to be right, just, and proper, but rather setting aside all preconceived notions, all expectations, all plans, and simply being like Mary. Simply saying to God, "They have no wine," and then saying to the world, "Do whatever He tells you."
Prayer at its height is radical openness to God, radical communion because you allow Him in, no matter what He wants or plans. Oh, you can certainly come to Him with requests, with expectations, with problems and solutions--but you cannot come to Him as though He was your servant, as though He was in your employ, as though He's a grace and miracle dispensing machine, controllable by your hand.
But you can come to Him as a love, a spouse, and a friend. You can come to Him as a son or daughter to a Father. You can come to Him as you would to Goodness Itself, Beauty Itself, Being Itself, Truth Itself, Love Itself, and expect of Him what you would of those transcendentals. You will never be ultimately disappointed.
Oh, we will be disappointed at times in the short term, because God is the Lord of Heaven and earth, and of history. God is outside of time, and has all the time in the world, and tends to work in patient, subtle ways. Perseverance in prayer and patient expectation, in opening the door of your will, your heart, and your mind to His Holy Spirit--His Love, His Truth, and His Power--is indispensable, We are being trained for eternity, for an endless, steady way of being in love, of living in love. We are being prepared for eternity, and so part of that preparation is training in abiding in communion with God. Abide in prayer. Come to the place where all your life is a prayer, all your works are a dance of delighted love of God and neighbor, all has its place in the giving and receiving that is the life and love of God, and you are doing well, and you shall see miracles.
All of that is a long, wordy way to say--prayer is powerful, but often in unexpected ways.
How do we know this for sure? Look at the lives of the saints. Look at the consequences of lives and hearts radically open to God, open to Truth and to Love, to Beauty and to Being, to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Look at their miracles, their impossible triumphs. Historically, Joan of Arc makes no sense, unless she really was hearing God in prayer; unless her voices really were the saints; unless she actually was sent by heaven
Look at Padre Pio and Jean Vianney, two men whose lives are redolent with the supernatural. They make no sense without the Holy Spirit, without the spiritual combat, without the reality of God.
Look at the Apostles, facing down the world and all opposition to launch a 2,000 year project of faith, hope, and charity.
Look at the saints. The deeper you go, the more you'll understand everything above.
All of this is a long way to say--writing to the bishops, making pointed remarks about "reform now or no more checks," and supporting independent investigations and consequences for malfeasance all have their place. They're all important.
But they must all be accompanied by, preceded by, and followed by prayer.
The Church is more than just those of us walking about on the face of the earth. The Church also includes the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the saints of Heaven. If you want reform of the Church on earth, best get the rest of the Church involved as soon as possible, and continue to hold open the door to their involvement throughout the process.
Take seriously the patron saints, especially the patrons of your parish, your diocese, and your nation. Celebrate their feast days with Masses and devotions, and ask their intercession (perhaps with votive candles, prayers from the treasury of the Church's Tradition and tradition, and regular conversations with them as you go about your day). Get them involved in the problems of your parish. They can act. They can help. They can make change happen in ways that currently seem impossible. They can overcome anything. But they tend not to act unless they're asked, and tend not to remain involved if they are forgotten. As with the Lord, so with the disciples. Free will matters. Invitations matter.
Take seriously the devotions in the treasurehouse of the Church, Take seriously the enormous promises attached to the Rosary and other great devotions to Our Lady. Take seriously the promises attached to the Divine Mercy message and devotion. And use them! Something or someone frustrate you in regard to the crisis? Pray a Rosary for them. Faced with insurmountable problems? Bring out the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Pray it before the Divine Mercy Image. Do it at 3 p.m. Jesus promised that the Chaplet could obtain all things; that venerating the Divine Mercy image meant victory over enemies in this life and the next; and that at 3 p.m., the hour of His death for the salvation of the world, the floodgates of Heaven were open so that every grace and blessing could be obtained--well, no problem stands a chance, no matter how big it is.
Take seriously the divine element of the Church. The Church isn't just an organization. It's not just run by men on earth. It's not the property of the cardinals, bishops, and pope. It's the Mystical Body of Christ. That means that the very life and strength of the institution, its very spirit--the Holy Spirit--is a Spirit of Life and Truth, of light in the darkness, of salvation, of conversion. So the organism is self-correcting, if only we open the doors to the Holy Spirit. God loves to send prophets--ask for a few! God loves to overcome the gates of hell--ask Him to do it in our generation! Evil sits uneasily within the Church--very active and present throughout our history, but the Church is sustained and abides through the Holy Spirit. Face down evil. Follow Christ's lead. Accept the Cross and the Crucifixion; the Resurrection is only a few days away.
The Church is a supernatural reality. Any attempts at reform that forget that fact will keep running into brick walls. Reforms and renewals grounded firmly in that reality? Well, they can renew the face of the earth.