“May the Good Lord be with you down every road you roam; may sunlight and happiness surround you far from home…may good fortune be with you and your guiding light be strong; build a stairway to heaven as prince or vagabond…be courageous and be brave and in my heart you’ll always stay forever young.” Rod Stewart and his co-writers’ forever-young message never gets old. Our Borromeo Academy school year theme, “Be Brave,” echoes this challenge.
It could also be a theme for our Catholic Church at this tenuous time in history. As a little pre-schooler screamed for the first hour of his formal education here last week, I was reminded that new ventures can be frightening. As some in early elementary grades look around at their teacher and other students with questioning eyes and while intermediate and middle-schoolers worry about being accepted and having friends, I know that the ambiguity of future prospects brings concerns to reflective souls. The challenge to be brave is intended not only for students, it is also meant for teachers, parents, and our parish community. Since our mission is to help children gain knowledge, embody wisdom, and embrace goodness, we want our entire faith-family to be smarter, wiser, and more loving. Our hope is to be better than before we entered our doors and to positively impact our part of the world after we walk out. That calls for bravery.
I wonder if it is also possible to impact church leaders to be more brave. Pope Francis seems to be as brave as they come but, like others who have been in his position, the stamina that once motivated him may wane or the happiness that sustains him may evaporate in moments when he faces hardship or evil. He and other bishops have tough jobs. For most of my priesthood, I have looked up to bishops. I recall Bishop John Sullivan, who ordained me in the 80s, speak about his fellow-bishops as the greatest group of guys he’d ever met. They are the best that priesthood has to offer; they are among the smartest, kindest, most holy and savvy men around. In Bishop Sullivan’s day, they courageously provided a moral voice for government leaders in America. Unfortunately, their voice seems meaningless today. Sullivan’s successor, Raymond Boland, often remarked that, though God’s mission is divine, His church got placed upon feeble human shoulders and into clumsy earthen hands. A year ago when headlines of misguided bishops and other nefarious leaders in our church hit news media, observers became increasingly critical of bishops. Convinced that they choose paths of least resistance and give in to coercion from a more powerful ecclesiastic mindset that compels them to conform, bishops seem to believe that it is more important to be right with the church than to be right with God (or equally erroneous, that the two are the same). Such coercion is the opposite of bravery. Wouldn’t it be great if every diocese around the globe adopted a theme to be brave so that we might better encourage leaders to stand up against both what is frightening and the fear of not being accepted by the other kids or other bishops!
We see similar acts play out in our parishes where priests instruct married couples whose unions are “irregular” or homosexuals whose creation is “intrinsically disordered” or inconsistent Mass-goers whose absence is “mortal sin” to make themselves right with the church. Never mind being people of goodwill and being right with God, this ecclesiastic mindset dictates that they be right with the church—and never mind that the church has not been right with God for some time now. As Jesus regularly reminded the Pharisees, who in His time carried the standard for self-righteous ecclesial mindsets, the vagabonds of the streets are reaching heaven more readily than the princes of the church.
Over the past month, I have gathered with Catholics who eagerly discuss their existence within our suffering church. With them, I pray that we will be brave and be right with God again. As the lyrics proclaim, “Down whatever road we may roam,” within the church or beyond it, in elementary school or the conference of bishops, “may our guiding light be strong.” May it be the light of Christ, which illuminates for us the stairway to heaven. May it help us to be courageous and brave; and whether or not we’re right with the church, may it help us to be always right with God. Let us pray for the children and for the bishops; much as Jesus challenged us to be childlike, let us be forever young.