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Walk Toward The Fire Anyway

September 15, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

With all of the bad news in the Catholic Church, it might feel as if this is a time to despair — that the prophecies of our Lady are all coming to a fine point all at once.
Allow me for just one moment to refocus the argument ever so slightly. Rather than a Catholic Church in decline in America, I want to show you a Catholicism that is on the march.
For instance, over Labor Day weekend, four permanent deacons were ordained at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. That’s four vocations who are fully aware of the current crisis, and yet instead they run toward the fire.
At the Catholic University of America there are over 6,000 students, half undergraduate and half graduate students. Walking around, it is entirely common to see priests, seminarians, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Capuchins from all walks of life and from every corner of the planet. These men and women will forever hang upon their wall and scribble upon their résumé that their Catholic formation will mark the rest of their lives. In their own way, they too are walking toward the fire.
This is but one Catholic institution of higher learning. Over 720,000 students are learning right now in Catholic colleges and universities, paying that extra tuition for a private education where public education might have served. Yet instead, they too desire that intellectual forge that only a Catholic education can give — again, they walk toward the fire.
It’s not just our colleges. Catholic hospitals make up just about one-fourth of health care in the United States. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters, St. Vincent de Paul Societies and the Knights of Columbus, Birthright and pregnancy resource centers, pro-life organizations and vocation directors.
Think for a moment of the Catholic Church in America just three months ago. Did we have our problems? Surely we did…but we had our faith. What changed with the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report precisely? If you consider it truly, nothing changed at all in this sense: Masses were still held, Baptisms were still offered, marriages were contracted, the sacraments of the Church were still freely extended.
One of the more encouraging parts to consider is that the last two decades have seen very few instances of sexual abuse, whether against teenage boys or seminarians. Surely problems still exist, but one gets the sense that those rushing into this burning building we call Catholicism in America are doing so out of a zeal for souls.
After all, the culture of death has already normalized what many of these priests were trying to hide. In short, the priesthood is no longer the haven for active homosexuals that it was in the 1960s and 1970s — a deplorable thing to say, but a truthful statement nonetheless.
Simply put, what we have been struggling with over the last month is a Catholic Church that was, not the one that exists today. Just a five-minute talk with any seminarian will convince you of the truth of this. Most campus ministries will show you a Catholicism that is hungry for tradition, starving for truth, and knows the difference between holiness and the world.
In chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel, three young men refused to bow to the false idol constructed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Their punishment was to be thrown into the flames, which the three Jewish young men did cheerfully. Yet their bodies did not succumb to the flames, and instead a fourth appeared — like a “son of God,” according to Scripture.
We see again in Malachi 3 that the sons of Levi will be tested by the Messiah “like a refiner’s fire…refining them like gold or silver” until all impurities are burned away.
Too often, we read about chastisements of fire literally, as if we are going to witness tremendous fireballs of flame in the sky consuming the Earth. This might be entirely true, and certainly if God’s ways were our own, such a time might look like the latest blockbuster film overdoing it with computer graphic images rather than relying on the plot.
Let us consider for a moment that we are indeed suffering through a chastisement. As St. John Eudes remarks, “The most evident mark of God’s anger and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world are manifested when He permits His people to fall into the hands of clerics who are priests more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds.”
Are we in the middle of such a chastisement? One can discern this for themselves in silence and prayer. Yet if you want to see the promise of our Lady fulfilled, look to the hearts and minds of the Catholic youth as they walk toward the fire. This world continues to anesthetize a wounded people whose hearts have a God-sized hole. Nothing — not sex, not power, not gadgets or experiences — is big enough to fill that hole except Christ Himself.
There’s an old line that says “Get Holy or Die Trying” that is rather popular these days. Turn off social media, stick to a few trusted outlets of news, and then attend to our parishes and rediscover the joy that holiness brings.
Sure the world is going to chastise us; walk toward the fire anyway.

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St. Catherine of Siena reminds us: “We have had enough of exhortations of silence! Cry out with one hundred thousand tongues. I see that the world is rotten because of silence.”
A stark comparison against the advice of Pope Francis, who urges silence and prayer as antidotes to a scandal-plagued world. It is no secret that Francis is taking aim at those who are raising questions about the American hierarchy, men who not only were part of the problem during the “Long Lent” but were made princes of the Church for their trouble.
Silence and prayer are worthy tools for discernment. They are not excuses for inaction, for as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us in the Summa Theologiae, there is no distinction between the active and passive virtues.
We should remind ourselves, though, that this is the same Pope Francis who accepted the resignation of the Chilean bishops in toto after revelations of their sexual abuse scandal. Faithful Catholics should not be too disheartened about being mischaracterized as the source of the scandal — it is openly clear that the Bergoglians (and what a shame that they call themselves this!) have already lost the argument.
All that is required now — after Francis’ discernment period — is decisive action that restores confidence in an authentic Catholicism and eschews the political pressures and concerns of the political left and the political right. After all, this isn’t about settling scores…but rather about creating the conditions so that healing can begin.

+ + +

So many letters! Then again, we live in interesting times. By all means, please feel free to write to me directly…thus far, I’ve successfully responded to you all — especially if there’s a thought or an idea you’d like to see batted around in this column. More than happy to be of service!

+ + +

Of course, I am succeeding (but not replacing) the inestimable Mr. James K. Fitzpatrick for the First Teachers column. Please feel free to send any correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, VA 23084 — or if it is easier, simply send me an e-mail with First Teachers in the subject line to: svk2cr@virginia.edu.

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