It’s a question on the minds of many Catholics right now: “What am I supposed to say to my family and friends who ask me why I’m still Catholic?”
Many Catholics have been wrestling with the question following the Aug. 14 release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing the sexual abuse by clergy of more than 1,000 children in six of the state’s dioceses.
The short answer, according to Father Aaron Kuhn, is, “If you believe in the mission of Jesus Christ and his church, then support it with your life.”
He shared these words during a recent homily at his parishes of St. Ann in Wadena and St. John the Baptist in Bluffton.
“It is hard to be a Catholic these days,” Father Kuhn said. The Pennsylvania report, accusations that some bishops tried to cover up cases of abuse, and sexual abuse allegations against a prominent archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, “have caused not a few of us to question our allegiance,” he said.
“Again, our best response: If we believe in the mission, then it makes sense that we can look beyond the sins of priests and bishops and continue to belong here,” he said.
In the wake of the news, people have called on bishops and priests to take action. Father Kuhn has chosen to hold a “day of reparation.” An act of reparation is a prayer or devotion with the intent to expiate the sins of others.
The day of reparation will begin Sept. 21 with a Mass at 7 p.m. at St. Ann Church in Wadena. It will be followed by a Holy Hour of Reparation to the Sacred Heart.
A second Holy Hour of Reparation to the Sacred Heart will take place Sept. 22 at 3 p.m. followed by confession and the Saturday evening Mass at 5 p.m.
“This will begin a day of reparation, fasting, penance and prayer,” Father Kuhn said. “Anyone may join me for the Holy Hours and Masses, or simply offer prayers on their own for the sins of priests and bishops that have undermined the mission of Jesus and caused damage to his people.”
Similarly, Father Tom Knoblach, filling in at St. Mary’s Cathedral Aug. 26, shared in his homily that, “As a human institution, the church is populated by imperfect and fallible people — our failures come not because we follow the Gospel but when we choose not to do so.
“As the Body of Christ, we have the assurance of God’s presence and grace, especially in the Eucharist, that can be found nowhere else. While we can understand how some are motivated to leave, remaining with Jesus at the cross allows us to hope for resurrection. In these difficult days, turn more deeply to prayer, to self-sacrifice, to witness,” he said.
“We have the opportunity to show the world that while there are painful and deep wounds in the life of the church, that is not the whole story. Through, faith, hope and charity, we can bear witness that the holiness and goodness of the church is not just superficial show, but that there are many who truly love Jesus and love their neighbor for his sake.
“I know you are there, and this is your time to be a light set on a lampstand so others may see how the Spirit of holiness remains at work in our midst.”
Point to the Eucharist
Father Derek Wiechmann, parochial vicar of the parishes of Holy Spirit, St. Anthony and St. John Cantius in St. Cloud, shared his perspective in an Aug. 19 homily.
“A little over one year ago, in an event that changed my life forever, I made three promises to the bishop, much like a religious makes vows to his or her superior,” he said.
“On that day, I promised to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind, to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours for the church and for the whole world, and promised respect and obedience to our ordinary and his successor. All three of these promises have been a tremendous gift to me, gifts that I have been slowly unwrapping and understanding every day of my priesthood,” he said.
“Priests and bishops who have abused, have completely abandoned the promises they made on their ordination day. They have left the side of Jesus and abandoned him on the cross,” Father Wiechmann said. “But it is precisely in this time that we must heed the words of Jesus, ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.’ While we have been hurt and lied to by many in authority in the church, it is not the time to abandon the church. We cannot abandon our Lord in the Eucharist. Those of us who stay, we may get asked, ‘How can you stay in a church where such abuse exists?’ My friends, point to the Eucharist. Point to Jesus! This is his church, yes, made up of broken men and women, but it is he who nourishes us in these difficult moments.”
Father Kuhn said that being Catholic from this point forward may “cost us a lot of grief” but it is important to stay focused on Christ.
“We remember how Jesus’ disciples wrestled with his self-revelation as the Bread of Life (John 6:22-71). ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ Many of Jesus’ disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. ‘Do you also want to leave?’ he asked them. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ We are left with the same question,” Father Kuhn said. “May we always respond like Peter.”