“Through some mysterious crack… the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, problems, unrest, dissatisfaction, confrontation. The Church is no longer trusted.” —Blessed Paul VI, June 1972
I’m sure many of you reading this article have had wonderful experiences with the Church and her good sons, just as I have. You may have a wonderful pastor, a trusted confessor, or are friends with a good priest or bishop and have experienced how the life blood of Christ can flow beautifully through them. My archbishop is a gift; a good shepherd and a caring spiritual father. I’ve experienced his kindness and compassion first hand. My pastor is the same, so approachable, deeply human, and full of love with a deep desire for his people to meet Christ. I’ve met so many incredible priests through my time discerning in the 1990’s at St. Charles Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania and in my work teaching the theology of the body across the country and beyond for the past eighteen years.
But sadly today, in the eyes of many, the Catholic Church is not to be trusted. From the culture’s perspective, the Church is not only seen as irrelevant to a post-modern, post-Christian age, but due to the crimes and sins of a minority of priests, bishops, and the debacle with Archbishop McCarrick, it is a sham. It appears to many in the culture today as a hypocritical and dysfunctional creature. Worse, it’s seen as a predator. Thanks to the latest revelation of sins from the once revered and high-ranking cardinal from Washington, DC (since demoted), priests are yet again seen as the awkward relative at the family wedding, who appears all dressed up for the ceremony but is to be avoided at all costs at the reception afterwards. He is perennially suspect. Merciful God! Bless with holy courage all the men in black so faithful to their vocation. They are on the cross yet again.
Repressing the Nature of the Church
How did this happen? We could blame poor seminary formation, bad diocesan administration, personal sin and duplicity. I’d pose another reason in addition to these as to why some members of the institutional hierarchy in the Church have failed so miserably. Because of the failure to be formed in an integrated way in the theology of the body, the marriage of our sexuality and spirituality, our desires and God’s design for them, many suffer the spiritual version of the same resistance to Humanae Vitae that happened fifty years ago this year. They are afraid of total self-giving love and the new life that flows from it. The power of the priesthood has been contracepted.
“The church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be. You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Here’s an unfruitful bachelor’ or ‘Here’s a spinster.’ They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life.” —Pope Francis
Some Catholics, lay and religious, priests and leaders, who’ve held positions of power and authority in the Church, in seminaries, universities, and dioceses have traded in the dynamic, life-giving power of the gospel for something safe, controlled, and ultimately self-serving. They have contracepted the gospel. Many clergy have cut themselves off from the theological potency of their priesthood; from their call to spiritual fatherhood. What remains when the theology of their bodies is absent? A twisted mockery of masculinity and fatherhood, the likes of which we see in the depraved actions of Archbishop McCarrick and others in their relations with those who should truly be their spiritual sons.
Christ calls us out of the boat. Christ calls us out of ourselves and Christ said that hell could not hold up its gates against the power of this Church. But rather than walk out in naked trust on the waves and wind, trusting in he who calls us out of the boat, many have preferred to stay strapped in their seats, relying on their own safety mechanisms, administrative machinery, and a bland bureaucracy. They’ve denied and repressed their very nature, which is meant to radiate radical new life into the garden of the Church and of the world!
How Can We Fix This?
How will we fix this? Well, for the structures to be salvaged we could ask for more transparency, accountability, and integrity. There are good bishops who have been sincerely working toward this for years, such as Archbishop Chaput in Philadelphia. These are essential for any relational body. But if a diocese merely offers another layer of procedures and policies, it cannot be enough. I think it’s time for many of these prophylactic structures to fall away. Perhaps we put too much weight on the administrative machinery? What we need now is a total transformation of the heart and the mind and the body. Where do we begin? Real education, which literally means a calling out, being led beyond ourselves.
This has always been God’s plan and will remain the only way for life to return to our hearts, the Church, and the world.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).
This death to self remains the way to life. Giving ourselves in love, not taking from others, is the path to being a true human being. Is this being taught through teachers from whom this passion is caught? This alone builds authentic communion, not a comfortable place for our sin or pride to settle. This self-giving love is the mission of every priest, and every person. This is the watermark behind the entire catechesis of the theology the body. And herein lies the antidote; the theology of the body is the answer.
“This theology of the body is the basis of the most appropriate method of … man’s education.” —St. John Paul II
Where Else Can We Go?
This teaching, which is the “total vision of man” that Blessed Paul VI called for in Humanae Vitae must become the foundation on which all seminary training, catechesis, and pastoral education rests. This theology of the body, taught through a head and heart immersion, will reveal the call to spiritual fatherhood and authentic masculinity for those called to the celibate vocation.
“In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many, cooperating in the realization of the family according to God’s plan.” —St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 16
As an educator for an apostolate whose sole purpose is teaching and guiding men and women through this healing and transformative teaching, I want to encourage readers to point their priests, deacons, bishops, seminarians, and all of the laity in need of healing and integration to the Theology of the Body Institute. There is no other way to salvage souls than through this teaching, which is the gospel, and the salvific plan of God for the modern world and the bruised Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church.
“To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67).
A More Spiritualized, Simplified Church
Nearly fifty years ago, soon after the publication of Humanae Vitae, another voice in the Church spoke a prophetic word about the present state of things and their collapse. In a radio broadcast in Germany, in 1969, a young priest said:
”From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek… But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.” —Father Joseph Ratzinger, (Pope Benedict XVI), 1969
Lord, we ask you again to meet us in your Mercy, and to guide us home through healing. You can do all things. Lord, rebuild Your Church!
This article was first published on the Theology of the Body Institute blog.
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Bill Donaghy has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as MissionMoment.org. He holds an associates degree in visual arts, a bachelors in philosophy and a masters in systematic theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia with their four children.