It seems like the only news we get today is bad. We live in a nation deeply divided. Daily we face more news on a pandemic, and news of a Church that is suffering in more ways than one. What are we, as faithful Catholics, to do?
Bishop Joseph Strickland has penned a book that gives light in the darkness and hope for those feeling hopeless. Light and Leaven: The Challenge of the Laity in the Twenty-First Century serves as the lantern we need to shine through the fog.
The Diocese of Tyler, Texas, is relatively small when it comes to size. Its population of Catholics is around 55,000. Bishop Strickland’s love for the Church bleeds through in the pages of this book. Perhaps more importantly, so does his humility. Bishop Joseph Strickland is a true servant of God who wants nothing more than to lead those in his diocese to a deeper relationship with Christ. And now, through the pages of Light and Leaven, he is extending that desire to the greater Church as a whole.
As we look around us at the Church today, we find a Church in need. After the devasting abuse scandal, a pandemic, and now the McCarrick Report’s release, some find themselves lost, hurt and confused. Now more than ever, the laity needs the Church. Two things have shone a light on that. First, the Pew Study of 2019, showing that 70% of Catholics in the pews did not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This study alone was extremely disheartening. The second issue is the pandemic. Backed into a corner, many dioceses closed parishes, relegating the faithful to remote Masses on TV. That 70% in the Pew Study were just given a free pass and made it through largely unscathed. We left the playing field empty. Our challenge now is to bring them back.
With the heart of a shepherd, Bishop Strickland weighs in on these issues and more. He does so with a light touch and a huge helping of humility. At the same time, he doesn’t pull any punches. As the subtitle of the book suggests, Bishop Strickland looks at how the laity can save the Church. He does so while also revealing where the Church, including bishops, fell short. A key point he makes is how the role of the bishop has changed due to a shift in focus largely pressured by society. This shift took bishops from a pastoral role to an administrative role, and we are paying the price for that.
The larger question here is how to right the ship. The Church has taken on water, the boat is listing, now is the time to take action. In his book, Bishop Strickland tackles this in two parts. The first, Light, details what the Church and her leadership need to do. This involves a more pastoral approach and, in so doing, will right the wrong of the past. The second part of the book, Leaven, focuses on the laity and our role and how we can contribute to bringing the Church back.
Our ultimate goal must be a firm foundation that points to Christ and not self. This is a worthy goal for cardinals and bishops to the church-going laity in the pews. The time has come to return to the early Church ideals of helping our neighbor, teaching them by example, and, through doing so, showing them the beauty of the Catholic Church. The time has come for each of us to be Light and Leaven.
Pete: We find ourselves in some pretty unprecedented times. And I hate saying that because it seems I say it a lot in interviews lately. We have the pandemic, we’ve had an election with more questions than answers, we have watched cities be burned. There’s a lot of anxiety and fear out there. Bishop, what words of comfort can you provide those listening today?
Bishop Strickland: Well the best thing I can say Pete, is look at history. There have been devastating pandemics before, there has been turmoil where nations have risen and fallen. Through all of that, really encourage people that are listening to this to cling to Christ, especially in the Eucharist. He is really there, as He has promised he would be with us until the end of the age. He is in many different ways present, but really present in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. Cling to the Eucharist and cling to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It’s a vision that St. John Bisco had that I keep returning to. Where we are really, the Church and the state, the whole world, is like a ship that is being tossed by falsehood, and evil, and all sorts of things. In St. John Bosco’s vision, he has the pillar of the Eucharist and the pillar of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a woman sinless because of God’s power in her that she said yes to. We don’t worship Mary, we would never worship Mary, she is simply the model disciple. But I think that vision of St. John Bosco is the hope that I cling to. Christ really present in the tabernacles of the world, in the Eucharist; reverence that, come to know him more deeply through prayer in His presence and pray the Rosary and other devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. That’s the best that I can offer and I think it’s those two pillars of strength that will help individuals, and families, and communities, the Church, and nations to return to a more peaceful, more enlightened world in the sense of the light of Christ and not the darkness, and the confusion, and the fear, and the turmoil that we are seeing so much of. So to me the best hope is stronger faith in the Eucharist and in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is always interceding for us.
Listen to the full Interview: https://catholicstand.com/light-and-leaven-off-the-shelf-200-with-bishop-joseph-e-strickland/
By Pete Socks, Special to The Witness