September 20, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Saints show us the way and ‘point us to Jesus Christ’

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Judge the Catholic Church not by those who barely live by its example, but by the example of those who live closest to it” (Venerable Fulton J. Sheen).

For the past two months, this column has offered reflections on the six reasons for staying in the Church proposed by Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron in his book Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis. This is the final reflection in this series.

Bishop Barron’s sixth reason for remaining faithful to the Catholic Church is the saints. “The entire purpose of the Church,” the bishop writes, “is to produce them. You can’t find it anywhere else, and no wickedness on the part of priests or bishops can affect it.”

Saints are “lights shining in the gloom,” he writes. They are present in every period of the Church’s history, and very often they rise up (by the grace of the Holy Spirit) to counteract the immorality, corruption and infidelity to the Gospel found within the Church they love. “We must never overlook the saints,” Bishop Barron writes.

The saints are the light of hope for us because, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”), “they point us to Jesus Christ, the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history” (#49).

Pope Francis stresses that the saints are not superheroes who are “born perfect,” but rather are ordinary people who followed God with all their heart. “They are like us, they are like each of us, they are people who before reaching the glory of heaven lived a normal life, with joys and griefs, struggles and hope.”

Each saint changed his or her life when they recognized the love of God. They followed him with all their heart, without conditions and hypocrisies. “They spent their lives in the service of others, they endured suffering and adversity without hatred and responded to evil with good, spreading joy and peace,” the pope says.

The fact that saints live among us today even (or especially) in the midst of corruption and scandals in the Church is reason for profound hope. It is also an invitation (and a challenge) to remain faithful to the Church founded by Jesus not to condemn the world, but to transform it by the power of his grace. As Bishop Barron writes, “The point is that each of the saints, in his or her own utterly unique manner, shows forth some aspect of God’s beauty and perfection.”

“Sanctity is beautiful! It is a beautiful way!” Pope Francis says. “The saints give us a message. They tell us: be faithful to the Lord, because the Lord does not disappoint! He does not disappoint ever, and he is a good friend always at our side.” Church leaders may disappoint us, but if we remain faithful, the Lord will never disappoint us.

To leave the Church either by a dramatic rejection or by slowly drifting away is to abandon the way of life followed faithfully by all the saints in spite of their differences. As Bishop Barron says, “The one thing, of course, that all the saints have in common is that they are friends of Christ, and this is why we, who are striving to deepen our own friendship with the Lord, find such powerful fellowship with them.”

“Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route,” Pope Benedict writes in “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”). “The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives” (#49).

“Though we are separated from the saints by culture, personality, and in some cases, oceans of time,” Bishop Barron writes, “we are joined to them because we share a best friend. This is a crucial reason why we stay connected to the Church.”

Scandals, and the failure of some Church leaders to act with genuine pastoral authority and integrity, rightly cause grave concern for baptized followers of Jesus Christ. Thank God we have the witness of the saints—in every era—to remind us that the bride of Christ (the Church) is holy and spotless even when her leaders and members are not.

Bishop Barron has done us a great service by reminding us of the many reasons why we should remain faithful to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that we commit ourselves to every time we renew our baptismal promises or profess our faith in the Creed.

May our friend Jesus Christ, and all the saints, give us the courage and hope we need to remain faithful to the Church we love! †

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