What I told my students about the clergy abuse scandal
I really don’t like talking about unpleasant things. Perhaps to a fault. It’s not that I’m afraid to engage in difficult topics; I am not. But my natural inclination is to avoid these topics. So when someone asked me a few days ago what I was going to tell my students about the damning news coming out of PA about the clergy sex abuse crisis, I honestly had no idea. To be completely honest, I was hoping my students wouldn’t bring it up so I could avoid the topic.
As it happened, my students did not raise the subject. But I did.
This past Saturday I met with all my student leaders for a work day to get us ready for the start of the semester. We began our day with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It was Saturday of Week III in the Psalter. This was the reading.
In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation — among whom you shine like the stars in the sky (Phil 2:14-15).
I wasn’t planning on preaching a homily after the reading that morning. But I did. What I told my student leaders, in a nutshell, was this.
This is their job description: to shine like stars in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation. There is depravity on college campuses. They know this. But the “twisted and depraved generation” does not only exist on the college campus. It exists in the world. It existed in St. Paul’s time when he was writing to the Philippians. It exists now in our own time.
We are hearing a lot in recent days about the twisted and depraved generation that is in the Church. The Church is not immune to depravity. Insofar as its human element is concerned, it is subject to sin as much as any human organization. And make no mistake, the types of sins we are hearing about being committed by priests and bishops are not unique to the Catholic Church. They exist in the world. They are happening all the time, in our communities, under our noses, unseen and unspoken of. Our world is broken. Humanity is broken. That’s why we need a Savior.
But it hurts more when we hear about these horrible things being done by leaders within our Church. We need to acknowledge the scandal. It is a scandal. And we will have to deal with it.
How are these students to deal with it on our campus? I told them to be prepared. Expect to meet other students who when they hear the word “Catholic” the first thing that comes to their mind are pedophile priests, and so they want nothing to do with the Church. That their job was to be a counter example. They may be the only practicing Catholic that person knows. So be a good one. Be a faithful one. Be a devout one. Be an honest one. Shine like a star in the midst of this twisted and depraved generation. So maybe one day when that same person hears the word “Catholic” the first thing they think of will be their friend from college who was kind to them. Who was a normal person who had a connection with God. Who was honestly trying to do good and to be good. Who loved them.
Because that’s what it is going to take to heal this scandal — the example of good and faithful Catholics of all walks of life.
We are in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation. It is our job to shine like stars — not with our own light, but with the light of Christ. We need to pray. We need to do penance. We need stay close to the sacraments. We need to not be ashamed of our faith nor afraid to share it. We need to let the light of Christ shine so brightly within us that we truly do become like the stars in the sky.
That’s what I told my student leaders. And that’s what I want to tell all of my students on campus. Don’t be afraid. Stay close to Jesus. And shine like the stars, as a beacons of hope to those who feel lost in this dark night.