If any of us had the audacity to ask, "What is right with the Church?" the most resounding answer would probably be, "Nothing."
Few writers are more pithy and quotable than G.K. Chesterton. That's why it is easy to believe the undocumented story that has circulated for quite some time. Allegedly, The Times of London invited numerous authors and public figures to answer a simple question: "What's wrong with the world today?" Chesterton's answer, as the story goes, was as complete as it was brief: "I am." It is unlikely that we would offer such a humble analysis of our times. Pride, playing the victim, and refusing to take responsibility have, after all, become a celebrated and recommended lifestyle of choice.
One thing is certain: in the past six months, no one has had to ask about what's wrong with the world -- even less what's wrong with the Church. The headlines, transcripts, letters, and statements are everywhere. Certainly more than just a few Catholics have found themselves choking on the words "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." God bless the Council of Nicea! Still, the first full week of the new year may provide an unwitting and emblematic image of the 51 weeks that will follow.
Last week, beginning on Jan. 2, the entire U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met on the grounds of Mundelein Seminary. They did not gather to debate new policies or procedures, or to strategize about what to do next about the scandals of clergy sexual abuse, infidelity and incontinence, or bureaucratic cowardice or dysfunction. And we can thank God for that, too! Instead, our bishops checked into a mandatory seven-day retreat, one called by the pope and led by the illustrious preacher of the papal household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa. The theme? Conversion of heart and one's personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Stop and think about it for a minute. The Holy Father called all the bishops of the United States to come together in prayer, to take a deep, long look at the state of their own souls. If you didn't remember to pray for them during the retreat, do it now. God has a way of ironing out the timeline and, honestly, our bishops aren't going to be taken off the prayer list for a very long time. In fact, they never should have been.
Ironically, one day after the bishops' retreat began, one of the largest gatherings of Catholic young adults also got underway. SEEK 2019, hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), provided over 17,000 students the chance to meet each other, receive the sacraments, worship God, and hear compelling witnesses of faith representing the full spectrum of Christian vocations. Priests, men and women religious, married couples and families, spent five days in Indianapolis. Anyone who has been to a major youth ministry event knows that the days are long and exhausting. They are also overflowing with the joy and excitement that is so much a part of what it feels like when you are young and life's possibilities seem endless as they take shape and open up in front of you.
Yes, these young people were thrilled to be Church. Many had faith beyond their years; others just beginning to walk the path of discipleship; some fragile, but willing to stay long enough to hear the answers to the questions that echo in their hearts. In their presence, it felt as if the current scandals weren't even real. It's easy for older Catholics to find hope for the future at such gatherings. But we should try to resist the temptation to put the burden of our faults and failures on the young.
It's important for us to fully appreciate that neither humiliated bishops nor enthusiastic Catholic youth can save the Church. Our only real hope lies in Jesus Christ and the salvation he won for us on the cross. We need a savior because we cannot save ourselves. The truth is that we cannot even be ourselves without the one who came to save us.
I believe that we will see a lot of ugliness in 2019. If any of us had the audacity to ask, "What is right with the Church?" the most resounding answer would probably be, "Nothing." The Church will not look much like the spotless Bride of Christ. The faith will not seem strikingly beautiful. But our Savior will be with us nonetheless; not because we deserve him, but because we so desperately need him. Jesus is what's right with the Church. And that is enough.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.