It has been about a year since the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The floodgates burst open with more accusations, conspiracies, and cowardice. Synods, conferences, and panels were convened to explain how this happened. The faithful raged, despaired, and prayed. Partisans inside and outside the Church trotted out their “causes” for the crisis. The atmosphere was disorientating.
The pitch of this crisis has ebbed and flowed over the last year, but it reached a particular high note with the release of a letter by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. The commentary on the letter was particularly impassioned, ranging from aghast denunciation to devout admiration. Every part of the letter was seemingly dissected and commented on.
This letter contains an unnoticed challenge to all believers. This challenge is not only important for addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and cover-up in the Church, but is the invitation of the life of discipleship. This challenge is to constantly affirm in words and deeds that “God is”.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI repeatedly emphasizes the reality of God, the Living Trinity. His reality and subsequent revelation of Himself to humanity in the Incarnate Christ is the ground of all Christian existence. “In this way the sentence ‘God is’ ultimately turns into a truly joyous message, precisely because He is more than understanding, because He creates - and is - love.” The reality of God as Goodness and Love grounds the goodness of all of God’s Creation. Benedict XVI constantly affirms that because God is, Goodness is real.
Evil is opposed to this goodness and denies its reality. The Great Deceiver wishes to convince all peoples of the “death of God”. “Power is then the only principle. Truth does not count; it actually does not exist.” Morality become a directionless compass, oriented by the arbitrary power of any particular moment.
Benedict did not propose anything new. However, its basicness makes it so radical and necessary for our hardened hearts to hear. Because God is, humanity knows that Goodness, Truth, and Beauty exist. We can participate in this Divine Life by participating in Christ. Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist is the privileged place of meeting. Martyrs, i.e. witnesses to the Good News, point to Christ because they participate in Him. The Trinity’s Life and invitation to participation must form a disciple’s life.
The affirmation that “God is” is vitally important not only to weather the storm of the sexual abuse crisis, but to weather our pilgrim life on earth. To affirm that “God is” and live in this awesome reality is the challenge of discipleship.
We are bombarded daily with the message that “Life is meaningless”. This climate breeds despair or a lust for power. Those who despair may be impotent or react violently in rage. The power hungry see opportunities to assert their will, using whatever means are necessary to implement it. This attitude infects the Church. People may seek to turn the Church into a secular charity or a tyrannical enforcer. Benedict’s audacious message is that the root of all evil, inside and outside the Church, is the belief that God does not exist. Benedict preaches: A life of faith lived in the reality of God’s self-diffusive Goodness that became and remains Incarnate is the only cure for the disease of sin.
We must return to this teaching because it is the essence of the Christian life. By doing this, our life becomes a constant prayer in which we are able to see, love, and live with the Everlasting Trinity. Without this, we fall into what Benedict diagnoses as a blindness from an “inertia of the heart”. The chief challenge of the Christian life in a fallen world is “to establish habitats of Faith and, above all, to find and recognize them.” The opportunity to see the Good and be Good is the invitation of Christ.
This invitation to recognize Goodness is the seemingly unaccepted challenge of Christian life. Each of us must honestly examine ourselves and pray: Do I try to see Your Active Grace in the world, Lord? Do I encourage holiness in my friends and family? Do I prefer the language of snark to the language of praise? Do we fill our day with contemplation which births righteousness, even righteous anger, or is it filled with clap backs and drama gazing?
The world works against the recognition of Goodness, but Christians must be people who affirm in word and conduct the reality of God’s Grace. We need to proclaim the Goodness of the saints, prayer, and the Sacraments. This is a personal challenge for each Christian. One way I have tried to accept this challenge in a small way in my life is prayer on Twitter. Every time I see a prayer request, I retweet it and say a quick Hail Mary. By this little act, I want to proclaim God as the Living Trinity, intimately close to our lives. I fail all the time, but I hope by these little acts to counteract this sinfulness and to live a life of virtue that points to Christ.
As Christians, we have a serious obligation to spread knowledge of and the opportunity to participate in God’s goodness. This requires us to not respond with mockery when we see something on social media. It requires us to actually help someone in need rather than simply talking about their plight. Ultimately, it means that we must pick up the cross of discipleship and follow Christ. Benedict’s challenge to the faithful is simple yet the most difficult challenge he could pose. If God is real, if He did become Incarnate in Christ, if He did establish His Church as a means of participating in His Life through the Holy Spirit, do our lives demonstrate this awesome reality? Let us ask for God’s grace in taking up this challenge.