The great Prophet of the modern-epoch, Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen stated that historically the Church goes through a crisis about every 500 years. The Church battled through Christological heresies, the separation of the Eastern Orthodox Church from Rome, and the Protestant Reformation. Presently the Church is traversing an exceedingly painful period in the public Church Scandals that seem to be rocking the Church to its very foundation. Indeed, many, especially the very weak and vulnerable, are exiting the Church in considerable numbers. For what they have seen and heard, and what some have witnessed at close range. Nobody can deny the fact that Holy Mother Church suffers deep, gaping wounds, indeed wounds that will not be healed overnight.
This being the state of affairs, as members of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the challenge is before us. We can jump ship or we can strive to mend the holes in the ship. We can throw in the towel and call it quits or we can fight the good fight until the end. We can throw a pity party and complain, moan, and groan, or we can strive to rise and return to the Home of the Father who awaits us joyfully with His arms and His Heart wide-open. Each and every one of us must make the choice.
I hope and pray that our choice will be the choice of Joshua and his entire family with these decisive words: “As for me and my family: we will follow the Lord!” (Josh 24: 15) May it be your choice in words and actions: “As for me and my family, we will stay in the Church and strive with every fiber of our being to transform the Church! And this transformation will commence with my own personal spiritual and moral life!”
Therefore, we would like to offer ten short, clear, and practical ways in which those, in imitation of Joshua and his family and all the courageous saints of the past, have decided with a determined determination to regroup, to rebuild, to restore, to start anew with this thought taken from the words of the great novelist of the 19th Century, Charles Dickens: “The worst of times can indeed be the best of times.” And may each of us decide this will start with me and my own personal life and commitment! Instead of looking around at the many ugly problems that seem to be engulfing and immersing the Church, let us look up to God for His help that never fails; then let us dig deep within our own hearts and strive for a radical conversion of life through the infinite love of the Merciful Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
The following are ten concise and practical practices that we can undertake to give impetus to the Reform of the Church and the conversion of its members. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who was instrumental in the reform and conversion of the Church in the 16th Century, constantly exhorts that we must humbly beg for the grace to be open to God’s working in our lives. If we are docile to the workings of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace, the wounded Church can take its first steps in reformation, conversion, and sanctification.
1. FERVENT PRAYER TO MARY AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. The nascent Church underwent a radical transformation and conversion due to the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infusion of the Holy Spirit. Read the account of Pentecost (Acts 2). At the prospect of Jesus’ Passion, suffering, and death on the cross, all of the Apostles, with the exception of Saint John, fled, paralyzed with fear. The little group of followers that Jesus chose basically jumped ship and abandoned the pursuit of the noble ideals that Jesus had instilled in them over those three long years. However, a powerful nine day Retreat (Novena) concluded with the sound of a rushing wind and fire as the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the Apostles. Fears, doubts, confusion, insecurities—all disappeared instantaneously through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the presence, prayer, penance, and perseverance of Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Apostles, and the Mother of the nascent Church. Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem; Mary would be present at the birth of the Mystical Body of Christ on Pentecost. If indeed the Church is to undergo a deep reform and a deep healing it must come about by fervent, prolonged, sacrificial prayer, and the presence of Mary. Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and author of the Glories of Mary, asserted: “When a person declines and descends into lukewarmness, it is because he is lacking the presence of Mary. Mary attains fire, fervor, and deep prayer!”
2. AVOID USELESS AND DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. Saint James issues a strong warning and admonition: “Be slow to speak and quick to listen.” (Jas 1: 19) All too often it is easier to give ears to gossip, negative criticism, character assassination, as well as to spread this with our own tongue. Saint Augustine makes this interesting observation: “The more we criticize and condemn others, the less we examine our own lives.” A very strong recommendation on this topic of the loose tongue and venomous tongue: read Saint James Chapter 3—the sins of the tongue! With respect to the problems in the Church, why not talk to God, as well as your Confessor or Spiritual Director, and offer fervent prayers for the Church.
3. PRACTICE AND PERSEVERANCE IN PENANCE. Our Lady of Fatima stated that many souls are lost because too few people pray and too few people offer sacrifices for the conversion of poor sinners. Jesus also said: “Some devils can be cast out only by prayer and fasting (penance).” (Mt 17: 21) All of us, young and old, man or woman, rich or poor, can choose some concrete form of penance and offer that for the conversion and healing of Holy Mother Church. As Saint Therese of Lisieux, who loved the Church intensely, pointed out: “Holiness does not depend upon the greatness of the action, but the love that accompanies it.” In other words: Do the ordinary things of daily life with extraordinary love.
4. SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE HARD–WORKING PRIESTS IN THEIR LABORS. Despite the failures and scandals present in the Church, in the Mystical Body of Christ there are still many hard-working, holy, sacrificial, and generous priests who are working in the vineyard of the Lord almost unperceived. The Press often promotes and spreads the bad news, but ignores, conceals, and hides the manifold good actions that many priests carry out in the Lord’s vineyard day and night. The next time you have contact with a priest in Confession or after Mass, you might say a prayer for him and give him a kind word of encouragement. That can go a long way. (I can testify to this through experience!!!
5. THE CHURCH NEEDS MODELS. A wounded, limping, and floundering Church is in dire need of splendid models to follow from both the past and the present. Athletes admire their heroes from the past and present. Writers admire literary masters. Artists look for exemplary models after whom to style their work. Now more than ever, priests, as well as Bishops, must lift their eyes to brilliant models, if you like the brilliant stars! These of course are the saints. Hans Von Balthasar states that in the heavenly firmament shine stars in gleaming splendor and these are the saints. Among these resplendent balls of fire are priests and Bishops.
6. LITANY OF SAINTS: PRIESTS AND BISHOPS! Why not compose a Litany of saintly priests and Bishops and pray fervently this Litany on a daily basis for the conversion of the Church, for the healing of the Church, for the renewal of the Church, and the Reform of the Church??? If you like, I will start the list with ten saintly Bishops followed by ten saintly priests and you can add your own. However, we must pray fervently and insistently to them for the Church! Indeed, their prayers are very powerful to say the least. Let us first lift our minds, our hearts and souls to these saintly Bishops: Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Saint Robert Bellarmine, Saint Anthony Maria Claret, Saint Albert the Great, Saint John Neuman, Saint Frances de Sales, Saint Augustine, Saint Athanasius, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint John Fisher… now you can add your own! Next let us lift our minds, our hearts and souls to saintly priests among whom are: Saint John Bosco, Saint Padre Pio, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Philip Neri, Saint John Vianney, Saint Louis de Montfort, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Damian of Molokai… now add your own, please!!! Therefore, by forming this double Litany of saintly Bishops and priests and praying it fervently every day, an outpouring and effusion of graces will descend upon the Church, and especially upon priests and Bishops. The prayers of these priestly souls and saints in heaven will never fail us!
7. A MODERN MODEL FOR PRIESTS AND BISHOPS: VEN. FULTON SHEEN. Personally, I never weary of promoting the Beatification, as well as with sure hope the future canonization of Ven. Fulton Sheen. Indeed, in the modern world with its modern crises, this man of God who died in 1979 was a true prophet and serves as a brilliant model for both priests and Bishops. We invite all to read Sheen’s autobiography: Treasures in Clay. So much can be said about this true modern hero for priests and Bishops, but we will limit it to one central idea. Upon retiring as Bishop at age 75 following the prescripts of Canon Law, Sheen dedicated the last few years of his life to preaching retreats, but specifically to priests and Bishops. He always concluded with one simple idea: THE HOLY HOUR, THE HOUR OF POWER!!! In a word, Sheen insisted that if priests, as well as Bishops, truly yearned for a sincere conversion of heart and life then it would come through daily contact with the Eucharistic Lord Jesus, present in the Tabernacle or Monstrance. This meant the priests and Bishops had to make the commitment to make a Daily Holy Hour. If done with constancy, fervor, faithfulness, and perseverance, the net result would be conversion, sanctification, and a true life of priestly holiness. Please pray for priests and Bishops, that through the intercession of Ven. Fulton Sheen, they will give the Lord Jesus that hour, the Holy Hour, the Hour of Power. If done, the priest/Bishop will be imbued with power in his ministry to gather in an abundant harvest of souls.
8. IN SINU JESU. Recently, a very simple but extremely profound spiritual masterpiece is spreading far and wide. The title is IN SINU JESU—When Heart Speaks to Heart: The Journal of a priest at prayer (a Benedictine Monk). To be concise and to the point, every priest and Bishop should have a copy of this awe-inspiring classic. The theme is very simple. Jesus, who is the High Priest par excellence, has a burning desire to establish, cultivate, and grow in friendship with every priest and Bishop. Most especially, Jesus longs for priests/Bishops to come before Him in the Blessed Sacrament and spend time with Him. In this time, Jesus longs to speak heart to heart to the priest/Bishop. What does Jesus desire of the priest/Bishop? The following: his presence, prayer, thanksgiving, supplication, adoration, love, confidence, sincerity, transparency. In a word, Jesus’ Heart is burning with an ardent fire to cultivate a deep, dynamic FRIENDSHIP with every priest and Bishop in the world, until the end of time. As is displayed on the front cover, Saint John is leaning on the Heart of Jesus. This Beloved Disciple, Saint John, is the model for every priest and Bishop in the world. Priest/Bishops must get to know, converse with, trust, abandon themselves to, and befriend Jesus. Once done, the life of the priest/Bishop will undergo a radical transformation, as well as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Pray and meditate upon this short passage from the Book: “Listen to me, open to me the ear of your heart, and I will speak to you as I promised. I will instruct you. I will teach you. I will show you the way in which you are to go. My heart yearns for yours. I so desire your company… I have called you to experience the grace of my friendship. I want you to be for my Heart another Saint John, loving me, seeking me, listening to me, abiding in my presence…” (In Sin Jesu, page 21)
9. MERCY, MERCY, AND ONCE AGAIN MERCY!!! Priests and Bishops must be totally immersed and transformed by the MERCY in the Heart of Jesus. The Lord Jesus stated on many occasions to Saint Faustina Kowalska in the Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, that the greatest attribute in the Heart of Jesus is His infinite MERCY. However, for both priest and Bishop this mercy is a two-way street. First, he must experience the mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as sinner and penitent. In a word, a priest/Bishop who expresses mercy to others, especially through the Sacrament of Penance—must first experience the merciful love of Christ as a penitent. Before saying “I absolve you of your sins”, the priest/Bishop must hear and experience those words expressed to and for him. In other words, before becoming the Father of the Prodigal Son, we first must be the son embraced by the loving Father. Nobody can give what he does not have himself!
10. MARY: THE MOTHER OF GOD, THE MOTHER OF THE CHURCH, AND THE MOTHER OF PRIESTS. Among the many titles for Our Lady are the following from the prayer the Hail Holy Queen: “Our life, our sweetness, and our hope…” In the midst of the struggles, trials, battles, turmoil and confusion of life, the priest/Bishop must walk very closely with Mary most Holy—our life, our sweetness, and our hope.” The feminine, motherly, tender presence of Mary must constantly fill, absorb, and protect both the priest and the Bishop. That lonely, hollow, and desolate void that many priests/Bishops at times may experience can be filled by the presence of Mary. Saint Therese, who prayed constantly for priests, once stated that, “Mary is Queen and Mother, but she is more Mother than she is Queen.” The priest/Bishop must experience this tender, loving presence of Mary whose love is constant, pure, attentive, powerful, and most efficacious!