9/1/2019Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
In the face of trials, Christ calls the Church to deeper faith in his power to save us
WHEN I BOARD an airplane, I hope the flight will be smooth. No matter how much I’ve flown, I’m nervous when the plane bounces around and the flight attendants are instructed to take a seat for the rest of the flight. Some passengers take the turbulence in stride; others are openly frightened. Still others are equally frightened but try not to show it. I’m in this last category. It wouldn’t do for a man wearing a Roman collar to get frantic. Instead, I discreetly pull out my rosary and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for the pilot, the crew and the passengers (including myself ). When the plane lands safely, I offer a prayer of thanksgiving.
Turbulence is an unwelcome experience, which causes heart palpitations and can endanger life and limb. But it also serves a purpose. It reminds us that we really are flying 35,000 feet above the earth, and that’s not without risk. Better to keep those seat belts buckled! As noted, turbulence is also good for one’s prayer life. As a passenger, I’m in the pilot’s hands, but I’m ultimately in God’s hands: “Jesus, I trust in you!”
The unnerving ups and downs of turbulence also serve as a good metaphor for life itself. As we begin each day, we hope it will be productive and tranquil. We often pray for lives that are calm and undisturbed. Yet, as we utter such prayers, Scripture rings in our ears. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks of wars, famines and earthquakes, and he warns of persecution and even death because of his name (cf. 24:6-9). In John’s Gospel, the Lord says, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (16:33).
We experience turbulence in many ways, both in everyday life and in our life of faith. Sometimes, it’s the result of our own folly, as when we betray the trust of others or engage in selfdestructive behaviors. At other times, such turbulence is not of our own making. Life’s journey can be rough due to illness, financial problems, unemployment, marital discord and controversy of all sorts.
In my life as a priest and bishop, I certainly experience spiritual turbulence. It’s not that God’s consolations and graces aren’t abundant; it’s not that the signs of his goodness are lacking. But many of the problems I encounter, especially in this particularly turbulent time for the Church, are deeply distressing.
The Church is in the grip of a global crisis of trust because of clergy sexual abuse and the failures of some bishops. This crisis has shaken the faith of many. Some have stopped going to Sunday Mass; others have left the Church altogether. Corrective measures once deemed effective don’t seem to have lessened scandals in the Church.
In the midst of this, what are we to do? Are we simply to grip the nearest pew and hold on tightly? Rather, we need to pray for all we’re worth. Sometimes, all I can do is to repeat over and over again: “Jesus, I trust in you!” Both clergy and laity also need to speak their mind about the scandals and do whatever they can to help the Church restore trust and continue its mission of faith, worship and service.
Just as airline passengers see turbulence as a bad thing, we usually recognize life’s problems as bad. But turbulence in our Church and in our personal lives also serves a purpose. It reminds us that we are not fully in charge. It reminds us that we need to pray and express in faith our dependence upon God. It builds up perseverance.
And it also confirms the need to change course, to take corrective actions — not looking for the smooth air of untroubled comfort but for a pathway of truth and courage through present trials. Ultimately, the air, or wind, we must seek is divine — the Holy Spirit, who carries us to everlasting life.
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