April 16, 2019

'Be still and know that I am God'

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer *
The paschal candle in St. Peter's Basilica. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.
The paschal candle in St. Peter's Basilica. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

How many Catholics will fill the pews on Easter Sunday 2019? Will this year see a noticeable decline in parishioners dressed in their Easter finest? Will the past year’s “Summer of Shame” – the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the (now-defrocked) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick scandal, the Vatican’s tepid, tone-deaf response to abuse here and elsewhere in the world – take its toll on the Catholic Church in America this Easter?

Some Catholics have already left the Church. Quite publicly. Others have not yet taken that step; they’re simply shaken and disaffected. This is not one of those stories. I remain convinced that the Catholic Church is where I should be.

Of course, I was angry when the findings of the Pennsylvania grand jury on clerical sexual abuse of children became public last August. How could men entrusted with the care of souls egregiously harm innocent children? News of Theodore McCarrick’s most unholy life also disgusted me, especially the news that more than a few people knew that this high-ranking American prelate had preyed on people and said nothing. All in all, I felt betrayed and humiliated.

I have found some consolation since those first months of shock, confusion and revulsion. Peter Steinfels’ excellent analysis of the grand jury report in Commonweal Magazine helped. He showed that almost all the abuse cited took place decades before the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 2002 steps to protect minors. These reforms have made Catholic churches and schools among the safest places for children in the United States. Then, this past February, Pope Francis finally defrocked McCarrick and hosted a world summit on clergy abuse.

There is still much more to do to restore the priesthood and episcopate. Some members of the hierarchy here and in the Vatican appear genuinely concerned and are working to rid the rot that has seeped into the Church. Is it only window-dressing? Only time will tell.

What are average Catholics to do in the meantime?

This Lent, I found my answer in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God!”

It is easy to walk away when things get difficult. Pointing to the failings of others on your way out may even offer a gratifying sense of self-righteousness. Instead of leaving the Church, however, I am choosing to be still. The Catholic Church is where I belong, despite the failings of many of her faithful, including yours truly.

Living as a faithful Catholic is not convenient or comfortable or popular today. It never has been. Ask the first pope, Saint Peter, who was crucified upside down. Or other martyrs to the faith of our past or present. Say the 21 Coptic Christians kidnapped and beheaded in Libya in 2015.

Yes, U.S. Catholics today face a crisis – our summer and winter and spring of shame, the failure of some priests and prelates, not to mention the Church and Her faithful’s place in an increasingly hostile secular culture. While today’s crisis pales in comparison to crises other Christians have faced over the millennia, it has led many to bouts of despondency. I am surely no exception.

But when I am “still” – when I trust that God has put the Church in charge of my spiritual well-being and try to follow Her teachings – I can handle whatever contradictions and confusions that the all-too-human leaders of the Church send my way. Or the challenges everyday life bring. Loss, suffering, humiliations or just plain exhaustion can’t keep me down for long. Instead of letting the scandal of sexual infidelity by a handful of priests and bishops dissolve this trust, I have resolved to be still and live more faithfully.

What does that look like? It means embracing all that the Church teaches, turning to Her sacraments, and doing so joyfully. It means being a light for others. As Saint Augustine said, “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

No, now is not the time to leave. Now is the time to stand confidently in defense of the Church’s eternal teachings. Now, today, this moment is the time to show it is possible to live consistent with Catholic teaching and desire the good of all around me.

So, as Easter season draws near with its promise of immense joy, I will be still, unwavering in my fidelity to a church that calls me to be a faithful, joyous messenger of love and hope. “Be still and know that I am God!”

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation. Her legal career has been dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.