In the early 2000s, when the sex abuse scandal first shocked the Church in the United States, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk (now retired), initiated a program he called “Grateful Believers.” He dedicated his weekly column in the archdiocesan newspaper to reminiscences about people and things for which he was grateful, and he invited all clergy and lay people in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to call to mind similar experiences of gratitude.
Archbishop Pilarczyk’s insight was that if we focus only on the negative, on the sins and scandals, we risk losing sight of the fundamental beauty and goodness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Yes, some Church’s leaders have sinned. Yes, we are right to be embarrassed, angry and hurt. But is that all there is? No.
Think back to the experiences for which you are grateful: For the gift of Jesus Christ freely given in the Eucharist and all the sacraments; for the Word of God generously shared in the scriptures; for the ministry of good priests, deacons and bishops; for the holy women and men in religious orders, and countless lay people, who have given their lives to proclaim the Gospel, to teach our children and to serve the poor and vulnerable among us. We should be grateful to them—now more than ever—because they did not give up on the wounded Church they served so faithfully.
Are you mad at the pope and the bishops for their failures to protect our children and punish those who committed horrible crimes? Fair enough. There is plenty to be mad about. But is that all there is? No.
There are more than a few reasons to be grateful for the ministry of recent popes, for the leadership of bishops past and present, and for the good priests who have served parishes throughout the United States so faithfully. Name a few of the people you are grateful for. Recall their kindness to you in times of trouble, or their ministry to the sick and elderly members of your family. Thank God for all that they shared with you in homilies or faith sharing sessions. Remember the people who cared unselfishly for the needs of God’s people, and say thank you.
Gratitude is the best cure for anger and depression. It lifts our spirits and calls attention to the blessings we have received—undeservedly and with no strings attached. When we say thank you to God or to another human being, we acknowledge that we are not autonomous, self-sufficient beings but members of God’s family called to love and serve one another.
Grateful believers are not naïve. They do not sweep bad news under the carpet or maintain that no evil has been done by sinful men and women in positions of authority in the Church. Grateful believers are thankful that painful truths are now being told; that Church leaders are cooperating with civil authorities and being accountable for, and transparent about, abuses dating back several generations. Grateful believers are sad and angry, but they refuse to let these emotions paralyze them or cause them to give up on the Church.
Grateful believers know that the work of Christ must continue—now more than ever. The Gospel must be preached; the faith must be handed on to future generations; and the poor and vulnerable must be served. Whatever evil may have been committed by individual Church leaders, there is still no greater force for good in the United States than the Catholic Church. No institution or community does a better job of resettling refugees, of helping children and families break the cycle of poverty, of caring for the healthcare needs of the indigent poor, of inspiring young people to live lives of generous service, and much more.
Now more than ever, we should give thanks for the sacraments, for the intercession of Mary and all the saints, and for the good work being done every day by lay people, religious, deacons, priests and bishops. Now more than ever, we should be proud of our Church which in spite of its weakness and sin carries on the work of Jesus Christ here and now.
Is it too much to ask that each of us say “thank you” at least once a day for the gifts we have received in and through the Catholic Church? Surely gratitude is better than bitter resentment when it comes to a healthy spiritual life.
Thank you, Pope Francis, cardinals, archbishops and bishops, and all you holy priests and deacons, religious women and men, and lay people who serve the Church in our country. We are grateful believers who—in spite of everything—appreciate your ministry now more than ever.