The time for our bishops is now


By Kevin Wells

Some nights, I imagine, a few bishops cry. The ones with shepherd’s souls, with Peter’s heart – I think they’re the ones who cry.

They know their flock is scattered. And in some measure, they know they’ve played a role in it.

Where once Christ talked about rescuing the one lost sheep, it now seems several millions of Catholics are lost. And I imagine most bishops don’t even know where to start herding – or how.

At the frothy confluence of rooted Catholicism and a culture driven by feelings, sensitivities and a fear to offend, 2,000-year-old Catholic truths are having a tough time of it. So Holy Mother Church scratches her head: it knows so many have decided to go their own way.

Clarity on Catholic teaching – the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman, abortion as the taking of life, the Eucharist as the Real Presence, the essentiality of the sacrament of penance, a burning prayer life, faith in action – are shoved aside, manipulated and given new meaning by self-made catechists, who’ve re-tailored their faith to fit their own sacred interpretations. The aftermath, of course, is a spiraling disorder of malformed consciences and reason.

And this Catholic chocolate mess is increasing in velocity. Recently at my parish a big-hearted deacon homilized, delicately, on the church’s firm resistance to same-sex relationships. A fellow deacon in the congregation abruptly left his pew and hightailed the Mass.

With the rise in atheism and relativism, merely obliging the truths of one’s faith is considered by many to be short-sighted, bigoted, homophobic, etc. Consequently, many Catholics have fallen prey to cultural acquiescence and cowardice – and in the process they’ve discarded truths sprung from the lips of Jesus Christ, handed on to Peter and carried forward as deposits of faith. Generations of strong Catholics families die every day in America. 

But all can be well.

Catholic bishops just need to die to themselves.

I think in their deepest recesses – when they’ve core-drilled deep into prayer – they know it. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said with simple eloquence, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

And it’s time for bishops. Now.

Bishops – I beg you – consecrate this Year of Faith to making a radical departure from routine. Put teeth into Pope Benedict’s charge. Please choose to postpone the lion’s share of your 2013 schedule – retreats, book endeavors, overseas visits, dignitary dinners, church ribbon cuttings, etc. – and become like a happy band of miter-wearing, door-to-door Hoover salesmen. This Year of Faith should be doorbell-ringing season. Why not visit each parish in your diocese and sell your flock on this Year of Faith? Why not come and beg them to re-learn the glorious, liberating message of Jesus Christ?

Catholics need to be led to perfect virtue, and they can’t get there with muddled reason and a distorted view of their faith. They can’t get there with flimsy catechism and milquetoast homilies. They can’t get there without an unflinching awareness that prayer, the sacraments and Scripture are the umbilical cords to heaven that will feed them sanctifying graces and provide a lifetime of peace. 

Wise bishops know the goal of life is not to be tolerant or spiritual or even accepting – but to be holy. They know the whole of the Christian life is about receiving the heart of Jesus Christ, and asking for the graces to transform one’s self to imitate him.

Your flock is dying for walking orders. There’s a growing hunger in parishioners for unvarnished truth; a hunger to be challenged.

Most critically, though, your flock needs to be led toward courage today.

On a perfect summer night 12 years ago, my uncle, Monsignor Thomas Wells, anticipated this need for rare bravery. Two nights before he was stabbed to death, he squared his shoulders, looked me in the eye and spoke of this modern-day martyrdom, “Kevin, you might not have to die for your faith in the ways you and I consider true martyrdom, but you are called to become a holy fool in today’s world. You can expect to be mocked and ridiculed as you live out your faith. And as that unfolds Kevin, it will indicate to you that you’re taking your faith seriously.”

Bishops, you can do so much good.

Come. Unite us.

Kevin Wells, a 1990 graudate of what is now Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, resides in Crofton. He is the author of “Burst: A Story of God’s Grace When Life Falls Apart”(Servant Books). In May, he was awarded the 2012 James Cardinal Hickey National Figure Award by the Archdiocese of Washington.

Copyright (c) Jan. 28, 2013

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.