I mentally planned for the day. I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment. Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.
So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.
“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?” Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.
“How about Archbishop McCarrick? The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?” Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.
Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks. I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response. In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.” And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.
As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me. While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.
Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.
Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more. One class reacted with more anger and bitterness. It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified. Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in. I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry. My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself.
How I wished I could say it was all untrue! I longed to tell them there are no more problems and that no more scandals would be unearthed. But I could not. I desired to speak only what was true and I couldn’t placate them with false consolations. A spark of anger flared in me–the crimes of some impacted far more people than they ever could have considered. Obviously, they were not considering who they hurt, but the ripple effects stretch out further than seems possible.
Discussing the weaknesses of the human Church is wearisome business. It was necessary, but it felt disheartening at times. In the midst of the most difficult class conversation, I began to feel frustrated at their jadedness and bitterness. While recognizing that it was more than reasonable for them to feel that way, I couldn’t help but desire to defend the Church I love, the Church so shockingly human and divine. Instead of venting, I challenged them to turn their bitterness and anger into something useful. As our bishop requested, I encouraged them to fast and to pray for the victims and in reparation for the sins committed. Instead of pull away from the Church, I invited them to draw nearer and to be transformed into the saints that Christ desires us to be. The best way to battle evil is to immerse oneself in virtue. Become saints, I implored them, and show the world that authentic Christians live in a way transformed by the Gospel.
As my heart ached, I wondered about the state of Our Lord’s heart. He knew these sins as they were committed and He saw the deception now being unearthed. His truly human heart must ache for all the wounded. “How could Jesus allow this?” one class asked. And I had to tell them that I didn’t understand it, that I don’t comprehend how free will is worth all of this pain and suffering. Yet I trust that the Lord knows what to do with all of this.
My conversations and my adamant encouragement that they embrace a life of virtue renewed in me the desire to be a saint. I cannot help uncover the truth or clarify what is yet confusing. However, I can enter into deeper union with the Lord and strive to say “Yes” to whatever He asks of me. Though small and unseen, this genuine pursuit of virtue will have a ripple effect that will stretch out further than seems possible. Instead of despair, embrace hope. Hope that as Christ can redeem a broken heart like mine, He can restore a wounded Church, too.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.