“Archbishop,” someone in the audience asked, “so many people are leaving the church because of the scandals. What can we do to address that?”
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta had just opened the floor to questions after his keynote talk at the Cathedral Ministry Conference on January 15, 2019. The archbishop took a deep breath and acknowledged the responsibility of the bishops for not having done enough to respond more forthrightly and effectively.
And then he said he realized that many people who leave cite the scandals as their reason. But he went on to say he believed more people in the church are looking for reasons to stay rather than reasons to leave. He said that “we priests,” especially the bishops, had to be better at listening and letting the people talk.
The responsibility “we priests” carry
Archbishop Gregory frequently referred to “we priests” during his presentation and during the question and answer session when he described some of the pastoral challenges before us. I am pretty sure he meant “we ordained priests.” But everything he said can easily be applied to “we royal priests” as well.
In today’s climate, it is going to take the entire priesthood of Christ working together to give people reasons to stay. Or, for those of us in catechumenate ministry, to give people reasons to come and see.
I have to confess that I fail at this. When I hear an archbishop say we have to give people reasons to be in the church, I immediately start listing reasons in my head. All of my reasons are very logical and sensible. I even start to fashion answers to possible objections some imaginary person might make against my reasons. This all happens very fast — within seconds — in my head. And then I stop.
Because when Archbishop Gregory says people need reasons, I don’t think he means they need logical propositions. Rather, they need to know why it matters. What difference it makes. Why they should care. Why I care.
What reasons to stay are you sharing with your RCIA seekers?
I stay because I’ve been saved. I’ve been saved from that time that I thought I was unlovable. I’ve been saved from that time my spirit was completely broken. I’ve been saved from that time when everything fell apart, and I didn’t know what to do. Each time, that salvation came from Jesus manifest in his royal priesthood — his church. And I know that if I am ever in trouble again, I will find refuge and hope and salvation in the church.
Many of our seekers don’t know that. They don’t know the reason to be in the church is because, through the church, Jesus offers them complete freedom from fear and hopelessness. But they can know — if we priests spend enough time listening to their stories. And offering ourselves as living proof of what’s possible in faith.
The scandals might be giving people reasons to leave. Are we giving them reasons to stay?
What reasons are you sharing with your RCIA seekers, catechumens, and neophytes? Which ones come from your own story of faith? Share your thoughts in the comments below.