By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 23, 2018
Jesus felt the sting of betrayal when Judas gave him that famous kiss that led to his arrest. Now Catholics are reeling from the latest stinging betrayals by people in the Catholic Church that they’ve trusted and respected.
First were the sickening revelations about former Cardinal McCarrick’s long history of sexual misconduct with seminarians and the cover-up by bishops, and with a boy whom he baptized, befriended and eventually molested.
Things got worse when the Pennsylvania grand jury released a report about horrifying cases of sexual abuse by 300 priests, and subsequent cover-ups by Catholic bishops and officials, going back 70 years.
The suffering endured by the victims is unimaginable, but there’s also a huge toll on the people in the pews, who are angered and disgusted with the latest scandals.
And it’s easy to imagine droves of Catholics saying “This is the last straw” and exiting the church, intent on finding another denomination.
It’s no big deal for a Methodist to get fed up with the goings-on in his church and join the Baptists, but it’s a huge deal for Catholics to leave our faith, because of our history.
When Jesus said, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I shall build my church,” he was referring to the Catholic Church, which has existed more than 2,000 years.
Christ also promised something crucial about his church: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).
How have the gates of hell tried to prevail? Think about emperors who persecuted Christ’s followers by burning them at the stake and throwing them to hungry lions.
Think about modern-day society, where Christians are being killed and churches bombed in the Middle East.
The devil is still prowling around, intent on destroying Christ’s church. Right before Judas betrayed Jesus, Scripture tells us Satan entered his heart.
And it seems Satan has continued snaring the hearts of clergymen who’ve betrayed their flocks—and turned their backs on Christ. So the goal now must be battling the satanic forces entrenched in the church.
Leaving the church isn’t the answer, since that gives the devil the upper hand. Still, many non-Catholics may be perplexed by Catholics who, despite these terrible scandals, remain true to church teachings.
In 1955 Flannery O’Connor wrote, “The Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the Body of Christ and that on this we are fed.”
A Gospel scene that stands out for me explains why I won’t leave. When Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” many disciples were shocked and walked away.
Jesus asked the 12 apostles who were still there, “Do you also want to leave?”
Peter said something that explains why Catholicism has survived countless satanic attempts to destroy it. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
In 1968, Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Workers’ movement, said “I never expected much of the bishops … It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going. What I do expect is the bread of life and down through the ages there is that continuity.”
For Protestants, the bread and wine are just symbols, like a cross is. But had Christ been speaking symbolically, he surely would have said to the people who left him, “I don’t mean this literally.”
When Flannery O’Connor was at a dinner party, her hostess referred to the Eucharist as a symbol, and O’Connor blurted out, “Well, if it’s a symbol, the hell with it.”
She later called the Eucharist the center of her existence: “All the rest is expendable.”
Many people may angrily abandon the Catholic Church, but I’m staying put because, like Day, I go to Mass for the bread of life. And, like O’Connor, I consider meeting Christ in the Eucharist an irreplaceable treasure of my faith.
Sometimes I picture Jesus turning to me and asking, “Will you leave me too?
“Where would I go, Lord?” I reply. “You have the words of eternal life.”
Artwork (“The City of God,” oil painting) by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.