Last year I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with a wonderful woman who lived in the area in which I was giving a talk on homeschooling. During the course of our meal, she shared the story of her family’s gradual exodus from the Catholic Church. Some of her siblings left years ago because they’d suffer abuse at the hands of a trusted priest when they were children. She hung in there awhile longer, but left broken-hearted after conflicting advice, given by different priests, had her feeling confused and betrayed.
Her story wasn’t one of bitterness, but rather deep sorrow. She loves Jesus and wants to serve Him. Yet, she couldn’t find a way to reconcile her experiences with the gospel that she heard preached in Mass every Sunday.
PA Grand Jury Report
Reading the PA Grand Jury report, I understood how other victims might be feeling more than sorrow. My own stomach turned just reading the accounts of sexual grooming and abuse; it wasn’t hard to see how once faithful Catholics are unable to move beyond anger and disgust. Indeed, knowing that the abuse in many cases was facilitated by the inaction of irresponsible bishops, I’m not shocked by the in-box messages I’m receiving from people who want to flee the Catholic Church.
But, though I am not completely shocked by the desire to run away from an institution that failed in its mission, I, personally, cannot escape the question which Our Lord, Himself, asked the twelve Apostles. “Do you also want to leave?”
Disciples, who’d walked beside the Son of God, who’d witnessed first-hand His miracles of healing and multiplication, who’d heard the Word of God spoken by the Author Himself, could not bear His hard teaching.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
It was just too much for them to rectify Jesus’s command with what their common sense told them was reasonable. Unconvinced, they chose to walk away and return to their former way of life. They no longer accompanied Him.
To Whom Shall We Go?
Then, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Do you also want to leave?’ To which Simon Peter replied, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
The scandals rocking the Catholic Church show no signs of abating anytime soon. In fact, it is fair to assume that things will get far worse before they get better. This is another hard teaching moment, a will-you-stay or will-you-go decision-maker. Looking back over history both before and after Jesus’s earthly ministry, this certainly isn’t the first time in which the Faith, like a tree, has been violently shaken. Indeed, in each historic period the quaking has shaken loose some portion of the faithful. And, conversely, those same troublesome times have led others to cling all the more tightly to their beliefs (we call them saints and martyrs).
What Makes the Difference?
So, what causes some people to fall away from the Catholic Church while others refuse to let go? I think the answer really lies in the question that Jesus asked the Twelve. Of course, Jesus was never asking about a place or an institution. He was asking His followers if they wanted to leave Him.
Bold as he was when answering Jesus’s question, we know that Peter temporarily lost his nerve when soldiers came to take the Lord to be tried and crucified. Three times he denied Jesus when his own safety was in jeopardy. If Peter hadn’t seriously thought about his faith beforehand, if he hadn’t deliberately come to the conclusion that Jesus was the Son of God, then it is doubtful that he would have regained his senses when he heard the cock crow and taken up his monumental mission of building Christ’s Church.
We Must Decide
So, too, we must decide for ourselves to Whom shall we go now.
For anyone who is blind to the Presence of Christ within the Catholic Church, the answer is a simple one: this is too hard, I’m out. However, for anyone who knows Jesus (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) in the Eucharist, the answer is equally simple: the Holy One of God is here, I’m staying.
The Catholic Church must be purified. It cannot remain a haven for criminals and unrepentant sinners. We’re each going to have to commit to the work of pruning the dead wood, without and within. Purification is never painless. Therefore, Jesus is asking you and me for our answer today, so that when the times ahead test our resolve we’ll already know the reason for our hope.
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope
The Bishops Respond
Bishop Zarama, of the Diocese of Raleigh, and Archbishop Cordileone, of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, are committed to shepherding the faithful during this difficult time in our Church. They each addressed the scandals and challenges in recent letters. I encourage you to read them HERE and HERE.
What Can You Do
Now that you’ve answered Jesus’s question for yourself, it’s time to take action.
Support our holy bishops, priests and seminarians. Offer them words of encouragement and wrap them in your prayers. Pray for them by name.
Pray the St. Michael Prayer daily. Teach it to your children/grandchildren. Encourage your pastor to add it to the prayers at the end of each Mass.
Be a witness. Tell people why you are a Catholic and why you will remain in the Church. Show them that you recognize Jesus (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) in the Eucharist: kneel to receive, only receive on the tongue, dress modestly for Mass, act reverently in the sanctuary, train children to act reverently.
Tara K. E. Brelinsky is a home schooling mother of 8 living children, with 6 more heavenly ones. She works as a freelance writer and speaker. Married to her childhood sweetheart, they make their home in NC where they own/operate a restaurant, teach NFP and raise 2 dogs, 2 cats, ducks, roosters and a flock of hens (in addition to all those wonderful kids). You can read more of her musings and inspirations on her blog, Blessings in Brelinskyville.