by Nikolai R. F. X. Brelinsky
Before I Begin…
I must express that I truly recognize the evil of sexual abuse and cover-up. I have every ounce of sorrow for the victims whose lives have be damaged or ruined by the abuse of clerics. Words are not enough to heal these wounds, so I can only trust in the Lord’s mercy and goodness to remedy the evil which has been done.
A couple of people have asked me if I would be willing to share my thoughts and perspective on the most recent scandal in the Church. As someone currently studying in the seminary, it certainly struck very deeply. I can understand how other people would like to hear my insight on the issue.
However, I was reticent to put my thoughts into publishable words for a few of reasons. First, because I did not want to create something in a reactionary way. It often can cause more harm than good to express the immediate thoughts on my mind in regards to hearing scandalous news. Second, I was wary about the institutions which people would relate my words with. As both a seminarian for the Diocese of Raleigh and a student of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, I wish to avoid the potential backlash from anyone disagreeing with my opinions and relating them to either institution. Finally, I recognized that the dust has not finished settling, even now. I am still going through the process of interpreting what to make of scandalous news as it continues to be brought to light. Therefore, I decided that I would wait before writing about my perspective on this topic.
With that being said, I do want to write about something. I think it is important to communicate to the faithful that we seminarians are indeed working through this difficult time. It would be sinful to put on a charade that everything is fine when I know that many of the faithful are worried for us. So what I mean to write today is less about my opinions and thoughts on the scandal, and more about what I have so far learned in light of it. Please know that these thoughts are my own and do not necessarily reflect any institution which I am connected to.
A Deeper Longing
Allow me to begin with some background information. At the Seminary, each student is given an assignment for pastoral formation which we fulfill every Thursday. These assignments range from working in a parish to soup kitchens, from assisted living centers to parish schools, and so forth. We call these assignments our “apostolates”, meaning work following after the Apostles. This year, my assignment is door-to-door evangelization. I go with a classmate to a specified neighborhood and invite people to Mass and seek to initiate conversations about the Church.
In the midst of my apostolate this year, I received a bit of insight into the lives of faith of many people. That is, so many people today continue to long for God, even if they do not know it. While certainly there are people who turn us away or decline much conversation, more people than not are willing to exchange at least a few words. We meet active and inactive Catholics, Protestants, non-denominational and non-religious people. Yet I find a common theme among so many. They are curious about two men in Catholic clerical collars in a way a person is not usually curious about door-to-door salesmen. But it is not truly us, two men, who spark this curiosity. Rather, it is God.
To be Human is to Hunger
As human beings, we are by nature unfulfilled. Both in our physical bodies, along with our immaterial souls, we require more than we possess. Our bodies require nourishment, activity, even different levels of intimacy. Our souls require virtue, grace, and ultimately God Himself. Just as the body hungers for the things it needs, the soul longs for those things which fulfill it. This is why deep down, we all hunger for God.
Oh Lord, our hearts are restless until they find rest in You. —The Confessions of St. Augustine
Many people deny this hunger. We try to ignore it, distract ourselves from it, stave it off by filling ourselves with other things. Many an article has been written about the God-shaped hole which we foolishly try to fill with the wrong things, so I am not going to focus on that here. Rather, I want to stress the longing itself.
In light of the news of scandal, it seems that many people have written off the Church. They wonder how anyone could wish to be a member of such a faulty institution, let alone wanting to be its priest. The only thing I can fall back to is my own longing. I am not in Seminary for any aspirations of greatness. I don’t wish to become a priest for power or renown. In fact, there is much which I sacrifice in choosing this path. Yet, I have chosen this path because this is where I have heard the voice of the Lord calling me.
God always calls us to Himself. I have seen as much in my apostolic work. I meet people who have not been to Church in years, some who have not even been baptized. They express a real interest in the Church. It certainly is not the Church public image which does this today. No, it is God who calls all of His children to Himself through the sacraments in the Church.
Our duty as Christians today is to lead one another towards God. We as Catholics have hopefully recognized and answered the hunger we have for God. We should do our best, then, to be guides and leaders on the path to grace, rather than stumbling blocks. The evils and the scandals which have occurred are enough as stumbling blocks by themselves. Our call is to remain steadfast in virtue and prayer. Through this display of faith, we can show the reality of God’s goodness to the world. This way we may lead them to Him, Whom we all long for.