Are We Standing in the Right Place?

In the wake of decades of horrific child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and unconscionable cover-up by those in higher authority, the Catholic Church is facing a challenge even bigger than the scandal itself. It is faced with the dazed and confused voices of its own faithful asking questions like these: How could this have happened? What can be done to hold accountable those in authority? Why should I believe change is happening and is possible?

Among those questions is perhaps an even larger one: Where does the church stand today?

Many are wondering if the church into which they were born and raised (or chose to join as an adult, like me) is the same church born out of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the love of God for the world. They are wondering if the church still has a moral leg to stand on as it wrestles with its own imperfections and institutional sins and weaknesses. Those are tough questions and they are not going away any time soon.

 It’s the work of the entire church (clergy, religious, laity, men, women and children) to take up that challenge, to assure that all who look to us as the presence of Christ in the world find not a house of straw but rather a solid fortress of faith built on the foundation given to us by Jesus, by scripture and by the legacy of 2,000 years of inspired tradition (even if the flame of that faith sometimes sputters to nothing but glowing embers).

It’s our job to stir into flame the words of Jesus so they make sense and ring true for a new generation of seekers of truth, authentic community and shared Christian love, forgiveness and charity.

So where do we start? Where do we stand?

I suggest we begin by recalling a scene somewhere outside Jerusalem in the first century. An itinerant teacher and healer has gathered a small crowd around him on a hill near the Sea of Galilee. With simple language they can understand, he gives them a series of eight “blessings,” small lessons in living a life of authentic faith and love. We know them today as the Beatitudes, and traditionally each begins with the phrase, “Blessed are they who…”

Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest and author who has worked with gang members in some of the toughest neighborhoods in LA for decades, has said that he once read that the Beatitudes’ original language was not “blessed are” or “happy are” but that the more precise translation is “You’re in the right place if.” I’m no scripture scholar and cannot vouch for the veracity of that idea. “I like that better,” Boyle wrote. “It turns out the Beatitudes is not a spirituality. It’s a geography. It tells you where to stand.”

With that suggestion in mind, I humbly ask all who want a renewed and vibrant Catholic Church to ask themselves where they stand in light of the spirit of the words of the Beatitudes:

We’re in the right place if we are standing and embracing our poverty and that of others, for one day we will stand very close to God. Maybe we are already standing there.

We’re in the right place if we are standing before coffins and graves, weeping for those now beyond our sight, for we will feel the arm of God around our shoulders.

We’re in the right place if we are standing behind and beneath others and letting them go first and receive the best of everything, for we have many blessings coming our way.

 We’re in the right place if we are hungering and thirsting for what is right, if justice brings us alive and injustice moves us to action, for we, someday, will be satisfied.

We’re in the right place if we speak words of mercy instead of aggression and accusation, for mercy will find its way back to us and make its home in us.

We’re in the right place if our words and actions are pure love, for we will see God in our own reflection.

We’re in the right place if we are making and embracing peace with those around us, no matter their faults, their addictions, their histories, their origins and leanings and orientations, for then we are accepting our given place as children of God.

We’re in the right place if we’re ruffling a few feathers, if we’re hated for our hatred of injustice and our acceptance of the little, the weak and the oppressed, for we will find ourselves sitting in the lap of God.

Are we standing in the right place?


By: Steve Givens

Steve Givens is associate vice chancellor and chief of staff at Washington University, a spiritual director and widely published writer on Christian spirituality. He serves on the Catholic Leadership Collaborative Advisory Committee.

This piece was originally published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on September 21, 2018. Click here to see the original article.