by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When you accompanied Cardinal Cupich to Rome in October, 2018 for the synod on young people and vocational discernment, the challenges of child sexual abuse were informally discussed. The challenges were not ignored but not treated directly in the context of the synod.
I have many questions to ask you. but first is the clerical sexual abuse crisis. Your article in America titled Finding hope and healing in the face of the abuse provides a great overview of this challenge.. Women will be taking a major role In Rome in resolving this crisis. Could you comment on the importance of having women advisers for addressing the crisis at the Rome meeting especially Dr. Gabriella Gambino and Dr. Linda Ghisoni ?
Father Louis: Women are essential for the conversation that addresses the abuse crisis. Their perspective as persons who have often experienced, if not direct abuse, discriminatory and abuse-enabling social structures. This positions them to look at questions facing the Church. Additionally, their experience as mothers—as both Drs. Gambino and Ghisioni are—provides an invaluable perspective in terms of care, prevention, and healing.
Gordon: What are the primary challenges that will need to be resolved at the February 2019 meeting?
Father Louis: The primary challenges for the February 2019 meeting are clear to me. In the context of the universal Church with its global embrace of many different experiences and cultures, the meeting must help bishops across the world and their local churches to take an honest look at the phenomenon of clerical sexual abuse and the way it has been dealt with. It must then do a rigorous discernment to discover what is God calling the Church to in this moment. Finally, the meeting must begin—because it cannot in such a short time offer definitive solutions—to take action steps to prevent abuse from occurring in the future and to do whatever is possible to help the healing of victim-survivors.
Gordon: What recommendations would you give to parish priests in addressing the sexual abuse crisis?
Father Louis: Parish priests need, above all, to listen to their people. They need to create safe environments in the parishes for children, young people, and vulnerable adults. And although the experience of clerical abuse is in the forefront of our awareness these days, parish priests need to also minister to those who struggle with other forms of abuse and violence, for example, domestic abuse, gang-related violence, and the frequent root of different forms of abuse in addictions. In order to do these things effectively and well, parish priests need their own formation and a solid connection with the diocesan resources that are available to them.
Gordon: Congratulation on receiving the 2015 Touchstone Award. Please provide our readers with an overview of your responsibilities as the Archbishop Delegate for Formation and Mission in the Archdioceses of Chicago.
Father Louis: Thank you, Gordon, for your congratulations and for the opportunity to do this interview with you.
As the Archbishop’s Delegate for Formation and Mission, I have several responsibilities. I serve as a theologian for the departments and agencies of the Archdiocese of Chicago. When, for example, a special project or moment arises, very often I will develop resources. Most recently, this happened for the Jubilee of Mercy. If your readers go to the Archdiocesan jubilee website and click on “resources,” they will find some of the materials I developed. I also try to help the Archbishop in whatever way I can with his responsibilities. So, for example, I accompanied him to Rome for the month of October for the Synod on the Family. I also do spiritual direction for priests of the Archdiocese and help, as I can, at Holy Name Cathedral.
Gordon: You also have a major international following as the author of more than a dozen books, some of the most recent of which are published by The Ave Maria Press, and a popular lecturer throughout the United States and globally. I understand that you have even presented in New Zealand.
Please provide our readers with a background on your studies and some of the topics that you are most often asked to discuss.
Father Louis: I have a doctorate in theology with a specialization in spirituality. For many years, I taught spirituality at Mundelein Seminary and served as a spiritual director to the seminarians. Beginning with my doctoral dissertation, which dealt with the service tradition in the gospels and priestly spirituality, I have always had a special interest in formation for seminarians and ongoing formation for priests. Very often, I’ve been asked to speak about priestly spirituality. There are other areas of spirituality that I have explored, for example, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the spirituality of belonging to the Church, our history and tradition of spiritual autobiographies, and the relationship of human sexuality and spirituality. Because I wrote and consulted for RCL-Benziger on a catechetical program (Faith First), I have also be asked to speak on catechetical topics.
Gordon: As a popular author, lecturer, and spiritual advisor, what, in your opinion, are some of the principal reasons why all churches, including the Catholic Church, have been losing so many members, and what can all of us do to help reduce or possibly reverse this trend?
Father Louis: First of all, I would want to make a distinction. It’s true that more people today than in past years would say that they no longer belong to a specific religion or church. But when we look to those past years, I wonder if what seemed to pass for faith really might not have been a more or less superficial and socially conditioned belonging to a church. In other words, I don’t know if there is less faith today, even though there is less church membership. Culturally, it may have been “easier” just to self-identify as a Christian in the past. Today, it takes a more deliberate and intentional commitment, especially in the face of a non-supportive and sometimes even hostile culture. So then, the question is: how do we move people in the direction of a more committed and intentional faith? A major step, I believe, is to help them understand the deepest questions and longings of their lives. I don’t think we can start with evangelization. I am convinced that we need some pre-evangelization, the kind of “raising the questions” that Saint Paul did when he preached in Athens (chapter 17 of Acts of the Apostles). When people—who so often live on the surface of life—probe their deeper questions and longings, then the message of Jesus Christ begins to make sense. They must come to grips with their brokenness, their fragility, their aspirations for a full and complete life, and then they can listen to a message of redemption, forgiveness, healing, and transformation. I can say so much more about this. In fact, I’m working on a new book that carries this thought forward.
Gordon: One of your more popular books is The Devil You Don't Know: Recognizing and Resisting Evil in Everyday Life. Is it possible that. in the eternal war between good and evil, and the exodus of so many Christians from their churches, the devil may be having some short term victories?
Father Louis: No doubt, there are some short term victories, but there have always been some. I’m not ready to concede too much ground to the devil. Even more powerful is the presence and the working of the Holy Spirit in the Church and world. In surprising ways, when we feel most vulnerable, God raises up holy men and women to lead, guide, and inspire the Church. Across history, I think of Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Clare, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Teresa of Avila. In our own time, I think of the Popes of the last sixty years or so, who have been extraordinary and deeply spiritual. Of course, that includes our current Holy Father, Pope Francis. I also think of Mother Teresa and countless other women whose often hidden service is at the heart of the life of the Church.
Gordon: If we truly believe that there is a war between good and evil, what should our war plan be?
Father Louis: We have a spiritual tradition that speaks of “spiritual warfare,” and that is certainly true to the Bible and to our experience. But we have to understand “spiritual warfare” correctly. It does not mean that we believe in a dualism that pits the power of good against an equally powerful force of evil. That kind of dualism does not belong to Christianity. Our faith tells us that the victory already belongs to God in Jesus Christ. Still, there is struggle, and it is legitimate to speak of this “spiritual warfare.” Another caution is this: in this struggle or battle we are not utilizing our own weapons or defenses. If we do, we are doomed to failure. This can only be a struggle that is animated and directed by the grace of God. Let me quote from the Letter to the Ephesians. This Pauline vision of the struggle or battle is very important, because it locates the true source of power in God or, as Paul expresses it, “the armor of God”: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” This is taken from Ephesians 6:10/11, but read the whole passage for a fuller picture.
Gordon: How literally are we to believe in the specific personage of Satan as described in the Bible such as when Satan tempted Christ as well as recognize evil as an entity in our daily lives?
Father Louis: The question inside your question is, I believe: is there such a reality as a personal devil? Or, is the devil a real person? Could he just be a symbol of evil? I answer this question in my book, but allow me to give a quick summary. I rely on an essay by Father Joseph Ratzinger from 1973, who, of course, later became Pope Benedict XVI. He wrote that our true personhood is constituted by our orientation to God. And, of course, the devil is not oriented to God. Therefore, the devil cannot be a person in the true and full sense of the word. At the same time, we know from revelation (and our own experience) that the devil is endowed with intelligence and will, which belong to human persons. Father Ratzinger concludes that the devil is the supreme personal unperson, who is able to move facelessly and menacingly in our world and lives because of his intelligence and will but never in movement toward God, the way of true and full personhood. No, the devil is not “just” a symbol, but this real and dangerous personal unperson.
Gordon: You are an exceptional communicator. Considering the often dangerous impact of digital and other media on our daily lives and, especially among the young, do you have any suggestions on what the Church in general, individual parishes, and each of us can do to better use this technology to reinforce our faith and to evangelize new members to the Church?
Father Louis: I think I’m too old to answer this excellent question about technology, at least in any direct way. I use technology but in a very limited way—for emails, for writing, and for doing research. The social media belong to a realm with which I am fundamentally unfamiliar, but there are good Catholic writers, such as Brandon Vogt, who are able to point out positive and creative approaches to social media for building up faith. As important as technology is, there is a dimension of evangelization and faith formation that can never be forgotten, a dimension beyond technology. I am referring to personal encounter. Everything in the gospels depends on the personal encounter that people have with Jesus. In our history of spirituality, the only way that conversion of heart has come about is through personal encounter with Jesus, usually mediated through the Church. I think that we should certainly invest energy (at least a younger generation should!) in technology, but we must never forget the foundational primacy of personal encounter.
Gordon: With the increasing decline in vocations, what do you suggest can be done to interest more young men and women to consider a vocation of service to the Church?
Father Louis: I do believe that there are things that we can do—with God’s grace—to draw more young men and women to consider a vocation to priesthood and consecrated life. The vast majority of these vocations have their roots in the family. So, we need to minister to families. When families are strong and faith-filled, they will necessarily generate vocations. Another thing that we can do is expose our young people to a deep experience of the Word of God, especially as it is found in the Gospels. When any Christian enters deeply and prayerfully into the Gospels, they will hear the Lord calling them, just as he called his first disciples. The sense and urgency of vocation, whether to priesthood, religious life, marriage, or the dedicated single life, begins in the Gospel. Finally, I think the older people of our communities—and that includes older priests and religious but also grandparents—need to give witness to the decisive importance of religious vocations. Their voice and their testimony is far more powerful than they can imagine. Vocations are always a work of God, a grace, but we can in different ways prepare the soil for that grace.
Gordon; Thank for for an great and insightful interview