St. Alphonsus Liguori, a great moral theologian, doctor of the Church and founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, writes, “Without prayer we have neither light nor strength to advance in the ways of God.” In other words, without prayer, we cannot move forward in the life of Christian holiness.
This is an especially apt point right now, as the Church continues to struggle with the fallout from this newest “season” of clergy sexual abuse. Many Catholics have responded to the continued allegations of abuse, especially by those who wield considerable power within the Church, with words of frustration and anger. Such responses are understandable and even justifiable, and there is much for which the Church must atone. At the same time, it is imperative that we respond, too, directly to Our Lord with words of praise and adoration, with thanksgiving and petition. With prayer.
As the Church continues to search for a way forward, many leaders have recommended reciting particular prayers during this time of difficulty. During this Month of the Holy Rosary, Pope Francis has asked that the Rosary be recited daily, along with an ancient Marian prayer Sub Tuum Praesidium, or “Beneath Thy Protection,” and the St. Michael the Archangel prayer, first introduced by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. Several other U.S. bishops are recommending that the St. Michael the Archangel prayer once again be recited at the end of all liturgies, as it was before the introduction of the new Roman Missal in 1969. In addition, when the Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in mid-September to devise and announce a set of initiatives that will help hold bishops accountable amid claims of sexual abuse, they also invited “each of our brother bishops to join us in acts of prayer and penance.”
“This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop,” the committee said. “We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient. Scripture must be our guide forward, ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only'” (Jas 1:22).
Several bishops have made these opportunities for prayer and penance public, including Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, who planned “From Crisis to Healing: A Diocesan Day of Prayer and Penance” for Oct. 5. In Raleigh, North Carolina, Bishop Luis R. Zarama presided over a Mass of Reparation and Prayer for Healing for victims of sexual abuse, delivering a 20-minute homily while on his knees. In St. Petersburg, Florida, Bishop Gregory L. Parkes has asked each parish to join him “in offering opportunities for prayer and reparation” through the First Sunday of Advent. Leaving the details up to each pastor, he offered several recommendations, including Masses of Reparation, Holy Hours to pray for victims, and designated days of fasting and penance. On Sept. 14, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, CSsR, of Newark, New Jersey, led a service at the archdiocese’s cathedral basilica dedicated to survivors of abuse. In Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl announced a “Season of Healing” to “give voice to the pain and suffering of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse” and to the Church as a whole.
During such a time of suffering, prayer, penance and reparation are essential if the Church is to heal. We strongly encourage all Catholics to participate. Such actions help us both to address the festering wounds of the past and to fortify the Church for the challenging road ahead. And, most importantly, they give us the light and the strength to advance ourselves and our Church in the ways of the Lord.
OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young