The following commentary was first published online Feb. 14 on the website of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. It was written by Lee Gilbert, a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Portland.
Many Catholics are speaking now of their anger, of their downheartedness and even of the threat to their own faith that the recent scandals have caused. This is understandable. Yet, offering one another counsels of anger, despair and indignation does not seem the way to go, either.
What then? As someone once said, we are in the grave with Jesus Christ, but he knows the way out.
The very severity of the problem indicates a way forward, a way that is not the usual, soft way into which we have fallen over the past half century, but an effective way for all that, the way of the cross. We are being driven to become a disciplined people who know how to bring grace down from heaven in torrents.
That does not at all mean we should hide our heads in the sand over this business. We should be as well informed as necessary. But how much information do we need to act responsibly as Catholics? Do we need, for example, to read the sordid details of every instance of abuse?
While we need to be well-informed, we do not need to put our own mental health and spiritual lives at risk.
I have come to think of the news media as “Institutionalized Worry.” It is the job of journalists to report exceptions to good order. But when you read a newspaper filled with stories about these exceptions, you begin to get the idea that the entire world is a mess. It isn’t.
I teach fifth-graders at my parish and with my new awareness about the media was able to say that, on the whole, the world is an orderly and beautiful place. Your dad gets up every morning, day after day, to provide for your family; your mother, too, works very hard. You have pleasant meals together on the whole and had a very nice vacation last year. And there are many, many families like yours. This is perfectly normal, and that is why there is no reportage. People do not want to read about normality.
Similarly, there are 400,000 priests around the world and a great many of them are living heroic lives. No one in the secular press reports on priests martyred for the faith, priests who preach the truth bravely, who get up at all hours to assist the dying. If we do read such stories, our mental state would be much better, our faith built up.
I get that this is a scandal of historic proportions, that people’s lives were ruined, that many priests betrayed their vows, that there are bishops who made grave errors.
That is all the information I need when I set out to do what I can as a layman. I will avoid falling into the same traps that the abusive priests fell into, namely, letting my prayer life slip, speaking ill of my superiors and falling into the grace-sapping trap of anger. There is such a thing as righteous anger, but when a person sinks into a state of anger and depression, he is paving the way for temptations.
I need to bolster my spiritual life by reading lives of the saints, not the deeds of unrepentant sinners.
Any Catholic with even a cursory familiarity with recent news has more than enough information to inspire him to a life of prayer and penance.
Digging up more news is to one degree or another self-deception, and even, one could say, a species of addiction, where one opens a blog or a newspaper to get another shot of adrenaline, of self-justification, for however bad I might be, at least I am not that bad. From my standpoint as an ancient of 75 years, this is a dangerous, dangerous business, and itself a ploy of the devil, for one does not become a saint by thinking of sinners and their sinful deeds.
Prayer and penance, however, make up the well-worn way to a noble and a holy life.