A few months ago, after I posted information on an annual women’s pilgrimage to Italy, a trip I co-host each year, I read a very sad comment on my Facebook page. A woman said while a visit to Italy, and in particular a tour of the Eternal City of Rome, was always of great interest, due to the Church abuse scandals that was no longer the case.
“Given everything that’s been going on, a trip to Rome and the Vatican has been wiped off of my bucket list,” she said. “I now have absolutely no desire to be anywhere near St. Peter’s or other famous Catholic sites. As a matter of fact, I want to keep running as far away from there as possible.”
The comments were heartbreaking. This was a longtime Facebook follower of mine who often has great insights to share regarding important issues facing the Church. But as the stories continued to be released earlier this year, I noticed a change in her normally very upbeat and positive tone. I tried to encourage her by explaining that we should always run toward, not away from, the Church. But she didn’t budge.
On the one hand, who can blame her and the many others who feel the same way? We feel as if we’re still in the middle of a brutal spiritual boxing match. That said, if we are going to help the Church not only go several rounds, but win this battle, we need to stay in the ring and fight for her. One of the ways to do that is to stay in good emotional and spiritual shape.
There are many ways to build our spiritual muscles. Prayer, fasting and the sacraments should be a part of our workout. But something else can help strengthen us as we step into the faith arena every day, and that’s a good healthy dose of gratitude for the Church.
Every time we turn around, we seem to hear about another scandal of some sort, sometimes even in our own church neighborhood. So why should we be grateful exactly?
I think St. Peter said it best following the Eucharistic discourse in St. John’s Gospel: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68).
The word that strikes me the most is “eternal.” The Church will be with us always, as Jesus promised in another verse, Matthew 16:18, where he explained how the gates of hell would never defeat his Church, founded on St. Peter. Following in the footsteps of the great saints in Italy and elsewhere can help build up, as well as flex, that gratitude muscle.
Oftentimes we tend to wish for or talk about what’s been referred to as a golden time in the Church. But that’s never been the case. We are truly pilgrims on this earth. The Church, as one experiences when visiting the Vatican, or St. Dominic’s in Siena, or the basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, is much bigger than the suffering we’re going through right now.
That’s not to minimize all of the problems. Nor is it an excuse to sit back and do nothing. But it is important to realize that the Catholic Church, in its over 2,000-year history, often goes through great trials, battles and intense purification and suffering. And it has been led through these spiritual boxing matches with the likes of St. Catherine, St. Francis, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Lord himself in our corner.
An attitude of gratitude helps us see the big picture of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith. So, as you go around the table this year, ignore the looks of shock or the long stares. As you pass the gravy and the mashed potatoes, don’t be afraid to pass along a nice portion of gratitude for our Catholic faith. Despite all of the problems, there is so much for which to be thankful.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).