Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: If we understand how it happened, and the redemption of Christ, even the clergy abuse scandal can give us cause for hope.

September 13, 2009

24th Sunday in Course

The Gospel I just proclaimed for you is the first of two summits in Mark’s explanation of Jesus the Nazarene. To emphasize Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is Messiah, Mark omits all the detail that Matthew gives, particularly his entrusting of the leadership of the apostles and the whole Church to Peter. Instead, we have stark sequence of speech: Who do you say I am? Peter replies with authority: You are the Christ.

Jesus knows that none of his contemporaries really understand what it means to be the Messiah. They think the Messiah will be a grand general and politician who will kill Romans and restore the kingdom of David, a bloody reign that had peace for maybe a couple of decades. Jesus knows that the only blood that will gain peace for Israel and the world is His own precious blood, that the only kingdom worth having is one in which the Holy Spirit brings people together in peace and harmony. So he tells the apostles to be quiet about his Messianic identity.

Instead, he tells the apostles that He, the real Christ, will suffer, and be murdered, and only establish the reign of God by His own resurrection. Peter, never one to pass up a chance to put his foot into his mouth, fusses at Jesus for talking about failure and death. Jesus calls Peter “Satana,” which in Hebrew means a great Adversary, one who will thwart the will of God. Human plans are not God’s plans. The true Messiah will give Himself over to those who will mock Him and spit on Him and pluck out His beard and skin and dignity. And, if you read on in the Gospels, you see that He tells us that the Church, too, must undergo the same kind of suffering.

And the Church has suffered greatly over the past ten years. The sexual abuse and homosexual clergy crisis have caused great pain for people both inside and outside the Church. The sinless Bride of Christ seemed to the world to be rife with scandal–mostly older men abusing boys, but with every other possible variant of abuse. And abuse it was, even if those involved considered the actions to be consensual. When a man in a habit or clericals, or a woman religious, says something detestable is good, only children of uncommon valor could call a foul.

The damage done to our communion has been profound. Yes, dioceses have been driven into bankruptcy. Money that could have been used for ministry and for rebuilding our crumbling Catholic schools has gone to restitution and legal fees. But that’s just money. We are a hierarchical entity established by Christ. On the rare occasion I wear my clericals, about half the folks I encounter show me respect, but the other half look at me as if I were escaped from prison. People have become fearful of priests and religious, the very ministers who can help them in the great crises of life. Some–even some in my own family–have left the Church, usually to join a Protestant denomination with an even worse abuse problem, but one unreported by the secular press. This atmosphere of fear and distrust is incompatible with the traditional role of the Church–created by Christ to be a place of safety, celebration, evangelization and communion.

I think there is hope, however, in this sad Garden of Gethsemane. To understand why, let’s go back to the days after the Vatican Council, days I remember well as a temporary professed in a religious order. I can tell you from experience what has been well documented in several journals. What we are going through was engineered by a whole raft of Adversaries, from the chief Satan on down. And what will come of it will be the triumph of Christ and the purification of His Bride.

The Council opened its mind and heart to the secular world in hopes of evangelizing it. But the Council’s decrees were non-specific. They were written with the knowledge that various Vatican congregations would spell out the specifics over a five to ten-year period. That was a horse-and-buggy timetable in an age of solid-state booster rockets. The secular world acted quickly to interpret the Council for the people of God. And their interpretation was exactly the opposite of what the bishops envisioned. Instead of the Church evangelizing the world, the world worked to secularize the Church, and divert Her from Her sacred mission.

And so, in our worship, instead of the blossoming of choirs and chant and pipeorgans called for by the Council, we got Janis Joplin wannabes and the four-hymn Mass that continues to afflict us today. Instead of the Council’s revitalization of the family as the image of Christ and the Church, we got Planned Parenthood and the Pill, and an abortion rate among self-professed Catholics that condemns almost one in three of our offspring to death before birth. And instead of religious orders returning to the original charisms of their founders, the modern world unleashed a phalanx of psychologists on the sisters and nuns and brothers and priests. Those so-called experts were disciples of the anti-Catholic guru Carl Rogers. They encouraged the professed, instead of getting in touch with their founders, to get in touch with their individuality and sexuality. Get real; telling a bunch of twenty-year old bachelors–even in religious habits–to get in touch with their sexuality is a huge mistake. Instead of all-night chapel vigils, there were all-night parties and hook-ups. That was the big reason young religious left their congregations in droves. That is the real reason we have so few religious teaching in Catholic schools. And, since Catholic hospitals provide over a third of the care in this country, that is the core reason for any health-care crisis and soaring costs we see today. The men and women vowed to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience simply aren’t available for service any more.

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