What the Laity Needs from You

Your flocks are in desperate need of a loving shepherd


In the days since the Pennsylvania grand jury report, I have gone into the desert. I am writing these words through tears.

Whether in my home parish in Pittsburgh or in a parish elsewhere in the country, the homilies echo the same themes. Our pain cannot compare to the pain of the victims. Our pain is also real. It is the consequence of broken trust and broken hearts. We are left trying to reconcile what we have been taught about Christ, his Church and the power of the Holy Spirit with the evil and sinfulness that is present even in the Body of Christ.

As more victims speak and more details emerge, I am reminded of a scene from the movie “Spanglish.” A wife confesses adultery to her husband. His response is this: “You can’t keep talking. I’m missing what you are saying. There is a lot going through my mind right now.” She asks what he heard. He replies, “There was a crack in the planet.” There has been a crack in the planet for many of the Catholic laity. It seems that hearing the details of events has produced more than shock. It is a kind of trauma. You often hear the words, “I just can’t listen to anymore.” Like the husband, we want to yell: “Stop talking. I can’t hear you. My world is exploding.”

We cannot escape the coverage of these crimes and cover-ups. We have been assured it will become worse before it becomes better. So, what is it that the People of God need from you in this time of chaos and uncertainty even though you, too, are likely feeling angry and betrayed? We need space. We need silence, and we need to be invited more deeply into the profound movement of Christ’s death and resurrection. We need to be challenged to own up to what we truly believe.

Let’s begin with silence. There will be time for words — words that will help us express our feelings and words that will try to make sense out of what we have learned. But we also need silence. A time simply to let go of the words and rest in the stillness of God’s presence. It may be an invitation before we begin liturgy to breathe in unison and rest in the love of our Savior, to breathe in the love of God and embrace the suffering of all victims.

Let your homily reflect upon the Scriptures and the fullness of discipleship. While the current scandal has many and varied roots, it may not be the time to address those. Gatherings outside the liturgy for people who need to speak about these tensions should be provided in a safe and sacred space.

Most importantly, we need to be immersed in an environment where everything reminds us of the mystery of our faith — that God can redeem all things. No matter how deep the darkness, how great the suffering or how horrific the sin, God’s love given to us in Christ will make all things new by the power of his Spirit.

There is a Passover litany in which someone names the mighty deeds of God, and the response of the family gathered is, “It would have been enough.” Upon hearing some new atrocity or manipulation done in Christ’s name, I find myself asking, “Can Jesus redeem even this? Will he?” And like Mary at the foot of the cross, I must answer amid my tears, “Yes.” It is not loud or strong, but I am convicted that his love is more powerful than sin. Perhaps we need a litany that is offered after reception of the Eucharist in which we name times of sin and darkness. Together we would respond, “God redeems all things.” Find whatever means possible to fill the air of your parish with hope and redemption.

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The crack in our Catholic Church in America could not be any more loud or deep than for you. You love the people of your parish, offering sacrifices of time and self that no one could ever know. Now you are being asked to comfort and support God’s people who are angry, hurt and filled with fear. Your voice must be clear and unfaltering in the proclamation of redemption. Your capacity to accompany us through this darkness will help us to believe with Julian of Norwich that “all will be well. All will be well. For there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.”

DR. JO ANN PARADISE is a national catechetical consultant for Our Sunday Visitor.