By Fr. Reginald, O.P.
This year, Advent finds the Church heartbroken and humiliated. We are angry and confused over another round of sexual abuse scandals. How do we keep faith in such times? And how must we respond? The spirituality of Advent has much to teach us, and much hope to offer, in the painful times we are living through.
As we know, Advent invites us to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ. Or, rather, for his two comings. We look forward to celebrating his birth in Bethlehem, and we prepare for his coming in glory at the end of time to judge the world and to bring human history to its conclusion. And so on this first Sunday of Advent, we pray for the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, and in the Gospel, Jesus warns us not to “let that day catch you by surprise.” For now, we still have time to lay all our sins at the feet of the Lord’s great mercy. If we are obstinate in sin, however, or if we put off repentance for too long, we will have to face his justice. Therefore, friends, let us not waste any more time! Let us take advantage of the many opportunities the Lord provides for repentance and good works. When he comes, Jesus will ask us what we did with the time he gave us on Earth.
We must pray, and pray hard, that this reminder of the Judgment has a good effect on the leaders of the Church. As we know, it has come to light that many of our bishops have mishandled and covered up cases of sexual abuse and harassment by priests, and some of them have been found guilty of abuse themselves. Called to be shepherds, they have acted like hirelings, or even like wolves. Even now, it seems that little progress has been made in finding out who knew about the crimes of Theodore McCarrick and did nothing about them. We must pray that those who were negligent may repent while they still have time. Everything will be revealed when Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. That Judgment will go better for them if they take responsibility now. They don’t need to wait for the results of an investigation. Those who are guilty know they are guilty. As Bishop McKnight here in our diocese has called them to do, they should step up and tell the truth.
We are justly angry over these failures in Church leadership. But we must also examine ourselves. How have we responded to the current crisis? Have we lifted up our voices and demanded answers? Even though Church leaders seem reluctant to address the crisis, loud and persistent demands from the faithful may finally persuade them to act. One good thing that God might bring out of this crisis is that the laity might discover the power of their voice in demanding the transparency and accountability that we need from our shepherds.
We rightly want greater holiness and faithfulness on the part of our leaders. Let us seek that holiness and faithfulness in our own lives. Sexual sin (in an unholy alliance with the abuse of power) is at the heart of the current crisis in the Church. Do we really believe and try to live everything the Church teaches in this area? Do we make prayer and the sacraments a priority in our lives?
The Church has survived crises of leadership before and she will survive this one. Advent assures us that Jesus is coming to bring healing and justice. May these times strengthen our desire to run forth to meet him.