Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Reasons for hope

February 6, 2019

To read this column in Spanish, click here.

“Always be ready to give a reason for your hope.” These words from the First Letter of Peter (3:15) come to mind in these days when people find many reasons to be discouraged.

It seems that every day we hear a new story of leaders breaking trust with those they serve, whether in government, educational institutions, the entertainment and sports worlds and, yes, in the church, particularly as we face a difficult chapter in our history regarding the protection of minors.

And, as the archdiocese pursues the bold agenda of Renew My Church, and parishioners are asked to take a hard look at the difficult realities of limited material and human resources, it is easy to become disheartened by changes that disrupt our fixed religious practice patterns. We should not underestimate the discouragement that can set in over us like a dark cloud and sap us of any sense of hope.

Yet, as I look at the landscape of the challenges and vulnerabilities facing the church in these days, a number of reasons for hope come to mind and here I offer three.

First is the courage I have witnessed in victims who have been harmed by church personnel, especially those abused as minors by clerics. Sharing such stories is not easy, as one risks reliving the painful experience.

It is clear to me as I visit with victims that many come forward because doing so can provide liberation and healing. But it is also true that they also want to tell leaders in the church that they need us to live up to the standards of the Gospel. Their sacrifice in insisting the church be what it is supposed to be is an act of love that should give us all hope.

Second, I find hope as I see parishioners renew their faith lives through the Renew My Church process. People who participate fully in the consultation and honestly grapple with the challenges are coming to see that change is not only needed but life-giving.

It is tempting to hold fast to the status quo, ignoring the realities that jeopardize the long-term sustainability of our parishes. The fact that so many are willing to boldly face the present situation with all its vulnerabilities is a testament to their deeply held trust that Christ is calling us and working with us to take up his mission. 

People are coming to see more fully that we do not have a church with a mission but that we have a mission with a church. The church cannot be a nesting place for comfort alone, but, as Pope Francis tell us, it has to be a field hospital that reaches out to those in need.

My third reason for hope is the person of Pope Francis. As the Holy Father once remarked, we are living not in an era of change but a change of era. The new times call for a church that is synodal, as Pope Francis has noted, one that not only teaches but listens.

In calling the church to be synodal, he gives us the image of an inverted pyramid. The church has long been envisioned as a pyramid with the pope at the top, followed by the hierarchy at different levels, then the religious and finally the laypeople. He tells us it is time to turn the pyramid upside down so that the leaders of the church understand they are not to serve by governing but govern by serving, and opening ways for all to take up their baptismal call.

It is this approach that is needed for the church to address the sexual-abuse scandal, to take up afresh the mission of Christ and to adopt a spirituality that speaks to people’s everyday lives. This last task is particularly relevant if we are to pass on the faith to the next generation.

This is the reform and renewal the Holy Father is calling for, and his election was a providential moment that should give us a great deal of hope, trusting that Christ is walking with us each step of the way.

G.K. Chesterton once remarked that the most diabolical of all temptations is discouragement. The truth is what we just celebrated at Christmas: that God is with us in the person of Christ. Even through all our sufferings, through the scandal of bishops who covered up sexual abuse, through the pain we feel as we wonder about the future of the church we love, God walks with us. This truth is at the core of our reasons for hope, because, as Christ reminds us and as we see in the everyday miracles of joy and justice, with God, all things are possible.