Trying to Keep the Faith

We are happy to feature this guest blog post from Francis A. Quinn, the archbishop emeritus of Sacramento, Calif.:

One of the most memorable moments of my life was when I conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation on 20 youths in San Francisco's Children's Hospital. The children were from 4 to 16 years of age and were dying from leukemia. I was apprehensive about how these young ones would feel about receiving Confirmation.


When I arrived, I found many of the children bald from chemotherapy and radiation, thin and pale, their faces as white as the pillows on which they lay. I imagined they would be resentful, angry at a God letting them die so young. I thought they might be rejecting God.

The cynical parody of the beautiful hymn "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" came to mind:

Praise God from whom all cyclones blow.
Praise God when rivers overflow.
Praise God when earthquakes strike the steeple,
Bring down the church and kill the peoples.

Might these children be having similar feelings?

As I anointed their foreheads with the Chrism oil, their faces were peaceful, serious and with a look of awe realizing that they were receiving a gift from God. What faith they had.

Today, we are told that religious Faith is declining in America. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris have written bestselling books about atheism. Billboards appear in major cities proclaiming that God is at worse dead and at best unnecessary. We live in a culture that is more and more secular. We live in a world reliant on science--and that is good.

Science is not an opponent of religious faith. Both are a part of God's truth. Evolutionist Charles Darwin did not want his discoveries to diminish faith in God. Albert Einstein believed in a supreme intelligent being. Today, Stephen Hawking sees God in the laws of the universe. One of the most gifted scientists Louis Pasteur said, "Because I am a scientist, I have the faith of a French peasant; if I continue to study science, someday I may have the faith of a French peasant's wife."

There are many challenges to our religious faith. We puzzle about a merciful God and the suffering of innocent children, women and men in the earthquakes of Haiti and Chile. Yet even in their suffering, these victims seem to draw closer to God. "Through the tear in broken hearts, God is finally seen." God knows the full answer to the suffering of the innocent. We don't.

And then there is the sexual molestation crisis. This challenges our Catholic faith, and perhaps causes us to lose faith. Many of us, as leaders in the church, often have been blind, ignorant and clearly wrong in our handling of this crisis. At times we have focused more on the perceived needs of the institution than on the needs of the victims. For this we apologize. I pray that as a result of this crisis the church will find ways to improve itself. We should remember that the church is not the priests and the bishops. The church is all of us, a community centered on the person of Jesus Christ.

Today, thank God, church leadership is involving the laity more and more, bringing together the experience of parents, academics and scientists. Already there are signs of maturing. Two examples:

•    the comprehensive, vigorous church personnel programs now installed in all dioceses to insure the protection of youth.

•    regarding vocations to the priesthood, church leadership now is wisely inviting youths to begin their formal seminary training after high school, or after college, or after work experience, rather than in the tender years--the psycho-sexual formation years of puberty.

But more needs to be done. We should consider having a new ecumenical council with the unifying force of Peter and representatives of the entire church family, always respecting tradition and Sacred Scripture, studying more deeply the subjects of human sexuality; the healthy exercise of authority in the church; the needs of the poor and the suffering; the appropriateness of celibacy in the priesthood; the role of women in the church; the need for transparency; and the personal holiness of each one of us.

The church is a living organism. Only lifeless things are static and unchanging. Well thought-out changes may be necessary at times like these. To strengthen our faith, we should take heart from the words of Carlo Caretto, who writes:

How much I must criticize you, my Church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone, and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal, my Church, and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous, or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like leaving you, my Church; and yet every night I have prayed that I might die in your warm loving arms.

Most Rev. Francis A. Sullivan


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