“Prayer and fasting is all well and good, but what can I do that is really effective?” I’ve been seeing variations on that sentiment in recent days, accelerated by the revelations in Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony as released last week. His earth-shaking accusations against many top Vatican and US bishops, including Pope Francis, who he called to resign, because of their alleged complicity in covering up immorality and abuse, has left many Catholics reeling.
Social media has been awash in hand-wringing and people asking, “What can we do?” Because we don’t want this all to be swept under the rug to disappear in the next news cycle. We want our Church to be cleansed and the rot to be cleared out. We want the truth to come out and allegations examined. If the Pope is innocent of these accusations, we want to know it. If he’s guilty, we want him to make reparation.
Some have called for the withholding of donations to dioceses or parishes, which has some consequences. The assumption is that it will cut down on bishops’ lavish lifestyles. For one thing, by and large, most bishops don’t live lavishly. And for those who seem to have cushy perqs, they often get those from specific donations from large donors and foundations. The people who get hurt in that scenario are people like the director of religious formation or the diocesan accountant or the receptionist at the chancery or the person who goes around teaching confirmation kids about the Church’s message of chastity because they’re the low hanging fruit in the budget. “Fine,” they say, “I will direct my donations to my parish.” Well, the bishop will just demand a tithe from your parish to support his ministry. “Then I will put restrictions on my parish donation, so that it can only be used for local things.” The person you’re hurting in that scenario is your pastor who still has to pay the bills and satisfy the parish’s obligations while juggling all these restrictions and the bishop’s demands.
What’s really behind this desire to withhold money is a desire to be effective. As regular laypeople in the pew we don’t feel like there’s anything we can do to fix the Church or hold misbehaving bishops accountable.
You know what? That’s correct. There isn’t anything we can do… except pray and fast and be faithful to the Lord. But when I say that, I often get pooh-poohed by others as if prayer and fasting is something we say we believe, but don’t really believe is effective.
Don’t discount the importance of prayer and fasting. They are the most important things we can do. We often talk about prayer, but almost dismiss it as if we’re embarrassed by it. But prayer is what we can do. This isn’t our Church, it’s God’s Church and if He wants it fixed, then He’s got to do it. But we need to ask for the graces. Control over the grand movement of the world is an illusion created by instant media. We have just as much control over these things as people like us have had from time immemorial, which is to say very little. We can pray, fast, and be persistent in demanding reparations, just like the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18-1-8) and after that it’s the Lord’s responsibility.
Throughout history, the average person has been subject to the whims of the wealthy and powerful. It’s the way it’s always been and the way it still is. Oh, we think we have power. Look at the American Revolution, when brave colonists stood up to the British Empire and gained their independence. What really happened is that King George blundered, France saw an opening to advance its interests, and divine intervention prevented Washington’s defeat a dozen times from the Battle of Brooklyn to Valley Forge. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a time for good people to rise up as one to demand a change, but that’s not the same as having individual power.
We want there to be a metaphorical lever to pull that will put everything back in place. There isn’t one. What we have is prayer and fasting and those two things are enough for us.
Do you think you love the Church more than Christ loves the Church? He loves the Church enough to go to the cross for her. (Ephesians 5:25-30) So rely on Jesus Christ to be effective. Pray, fast, go to confession and Mass, and stay informed, but also seek peace. Don’t be complacent, but also don’t be agitated.
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28)
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