This is a devil’s advocate question I ask myself whenever I read a news story about abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church. The majority of Catholics still showing up on Sundays would probably struggle to explain why we’re still, well, showing up. The sexual abuse, the abuse of power, greed and the perception of intolerance. Bad things are happening in the Church, so it must all be bad and we’re crazy for still believing in the whole thing, complicit even.
Just like every other situation in the world, and every other topic, the truth is frustratingly more nuanced. Where the clergy in power have made catastrophic, devastating decisions, I feel betrayed and disgusted. I also feel shame. The biggest loss by far is for the victims, those of abuse, or any sexual or other minority who experienced trauma, that they face a huge challenge in trusting their way back to the source of eternal life, the Eucharist.
Because that’s ultimately what it’s all about. No where else on earth but at the celebration of the Mass can we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In the story of Passover from the Old Testament, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over a house and not kill the first born child if the blood of an unblemished lamb was spread over the top of the door. Not only that, the Jewish people were instructed to eat the flesh of the lamb. It was no symbolic gesture. They had to physically ingest the body of the lamb. This is one Biblical argument for the literal interpretation of Jesus’ instruction to eat his body.
In the Gospel of John when Jesus instructs his disciples that their salvation will come from eating his flesh, they immediately asked more questions, and some even left.
Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
“Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’”
Instead of correcting them and saying something like, “Oh no, you misunderstood,” Jesus repeats himself.
“Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.”
Catholics aren’t Catholic because we worship priests and bishops. But through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, clergy have the divine power to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. When you enter a Catholic church, you enter a building that contains the physical body of Jesus.
This is a dark time in the Church, but it’s also a wake-up call for every lay Catholic to become an active participant in their faith. Leaning on priests and clergy to do the evangelizing and legwork of sharing the power of a relationship with Jesus isn’t going to work anymore. Whether our methods are quiet, subtle or bold, us lay people can go back to the basics–reading, learning, participating–so we can both defend and share the beauty of the Catholic faith using our own God-given skills.