When the going gets tough
As I write this, news is coming through on the sentence Cardinal Pell has been given for the abuse of two choirboys shortly after his installation as the Archbishop of Melbourne. It comes as the next chapter in a seemingly long-running saga that culminated in his conviction towards the end of 2018 and the removal of the suppression order in February. Then we will deal with the outcome of the appeal scheduled for June; an event which will leave many unhappy, whatever the decision.
So what do we make of all this? Chances are, you have your views. You may feel the need to take a side: identifying with those who see Cardinal Pell as an innocent martyr, or with those who wonder if his conviction is simply just the tip of some sort of sordid iceberg. Battlelines are being drawn to reinforce such divisions, echoing the situation of the early church: ‘I’m for Cardinal Pell…I’m for the victims…I’m for moving on and not having to think about it’ (see 1 Corinthians 3:4).
No comment is being made in this article about Cardinal Pell’s guilt or innocence. That is for the courts and, ultimately, for God to decide. Instead, we reflect on what it means for us to be Catholic in today’s environment: an environment in which the Church is, rightly or wrongly, being called to account.
For many this is not a particularly easy time to be Catholic. In PR terms it is not looking great. The 2016 census tells us numbers are down and even among those who continue to practice our faith, there can be an air of confusion and disappointment. Perhaps even anger. It can be hard to speak about sharing our faith in this context, which is my primary role as the Director for the National Centre for Evangelisation.
So many Catholics I have worked with in recent years tell me that they no longer know what to say about their faith to their friends, their children, or their grandchildren. Recently my office was contacted by an elderly man who was reflecting on this situation. As he comes to the end of his life he wonders what he can do as a last ditch attempt to pass on the faith that has nourished him his whole life. His loved ones don’t appear to be interested. He feels that his Church hasn’t always helped him to do this. In fact, we may even have got in the way.
It would be easy to feel overwhelmed, but even a rudimentary study of the history of the Church tells us that we’ve been in tough situations before. The Church is in regular need of renewal and reform, and this should not surprise us. Any organisation that lets you and me through the door is never going to be perfect. For this is one of the glories of the Church: that all are welcome – saints and sinners alike. And this is the burden of the Church: that are all welcome – sinners and saints alike.
And as we look back over the history of the Church this is what we see: when things get difficult, the great saints come to the fore. God does not abandon his people, even as we might be tempted to abandon God. In times of difficulty the call becomes very direct and very simple: throw yourself on the grace and mercy of God, learn to pray again, and allow the search for truth to lead you forward.
For this I know to be true: there is nothing standing between us and the love of God. There is nothing happening in the world, in the Church, or in your own life that is preventing you and me from living the faith we have received. You are as baptised as the pope, and you are called to live your baptism as if nothing else matters.
But we are human beings and it can be hard to do this without support. For this reason I once more make you an invitation. Learn to think of yourself as an agent of evangelisation. By this I don’t mean anything onerous. I simply mean that we must embrace the call to enter deeply into our faith and, where appropriate and as the opportunity arises, to take the step of sharing that faith with others. For this reason each of you is being invited to join the Agents of Evangelisation network. See https://www.nce. catholic.org.au/networks/agents-of-evangelisation-network for how to join.
Pray for Cardinal Pell by all means and pray for the Church. Pray especially for any who have been in any way hurt by those who should only have been the presence of Christ for them. And pray that you too may more effectively be that presence.
Shane Dwyer is the Director of the National Centre for Evangelisation and the Catholic Enquiry Centre.
I say this to all my Brothers and Sisters in God,that are discouraged, it was always going to be a battle for true Catholics,
this is why we are called Church Militant, if Satan is going to destroy the Church, he was going to this from the inside, but if you are a true Catholic none of what is happening will phase you,if you truly believe in God, you will put your complete faith in Him and know He is not going to abandon you, so be strong in faith and keep your payers up, for the end game will be the Lords.
May the Good Lord Bless and protect all of you, my Brothers and Sisters in God
How long will we hide our nakedness before God and the world? Time for lame “She made me/he made me” statements has now passed. We are fully exposed by the fruit of knowledge. Come. Let pray and discuss this a little more. Eventually we must make a statement that will define our faith in the future. As well said by Shane Dwyer, “When the going gets tough …”
This article by Shane Dwyer was very helpful for me… thank you. I trust in the Church that Jesus Christ built and pray for all of us sinners and saints that look to it for hope, compassion and mercy.
We are indeed in tough times in the Church. So much loss of trust and shame for those abused innocent children. But they not Jesus who taught love and compassion and made sure children were heard. Some in Holy Orders forgot the love of Jesus, thougjt they had power over people instead of following the ways of the greatest teacher of humanity. It is to him we should follow now. Don’t give up on him now because the sinful few.There so many Priests who have followed his teachings and I am sad to think they are tainted by the few.I hope people will to Jesus and embrace his simple words. ” love thy neighbour”