Summary: The Holy Ghost has the power to sweep up the shards and make from this mess a magnificent mosaic of Christ.
Fourteenth Sunday in Course: Extraordinary Lectionary
The Church is in a “time that tries men's souls,” and it is not God who has put us in this trial by fire. A good friend of mine is a convert to the Catholic faith, and recently told me that if she were in the decision phase of that conversion today, she would probably not become a Catholic. When a sexual predator can rise to the College of Cardinals and become a trusted papal advisor, something is wrong. And when all the bishops around him can then claim no knowledge of a lifelong pattern of abuse in this colleague, something is systemically wrong. The rumors were there twenty or more years ago. A week or so of investigation would have revealed the truth, yet nothing was done to prevent additional abuse, lost priestly vocations, human tragedy.
But this is a homily, so my task is to try to sweep up some of the broken stained glass and let the Holy Ghost inspire us to piece together from the shards a mosaic of the face of Christ. As the Introit says, then the Father can, as our protector, again look at His Church and see the face of His Son. The prayer we just prayed is most appropriate: “Keep Thy Church with Thy perpetual mercy. Without Thee human frailty is bound to fail. Always save it by Thy help from all things hurtful and lead it to all things profitable toward salvation.”
When you go to work or school tomorrow you still have the privilege and obligation to witness for Christ and His Church to a world desperately in need of both. The world doesn’t know what to do about sexual abuse. If you had gotten on Google yesterday you would have seen it celebrating the hundredth birthday of a musical leader who practiced a lifelong perversion. No. That’s the worst place to look for an answer. In the words of Saint John Paul: “only by the acceptance of the Gospel are the hopes that man legitimately places in marriage and in the family capable of being fulfilled.” So let’s go back to basics, recalibrate our spiritual GPS, so we can rise above the swamp of human sin with Our Lord and His Mother.
Christ tells us in today’s Gospel that we are not independent. We are not our own masters. That is hard for Americans to swallow. But we are all servants of someone or something. We either serve God or this mammon, whatever that is. Literally, the Greek mamonas means wealth or property. The broader meaning, though, is any created thing we value more highly than our relationship to God. That can be property, but it can also be our own ego, or perverse passions, or human respect. There’s no third way here. We either serve God or we serve some bad habit. Clerics or laity, that’s the choice. As Cardinal Sarah’s book title says: God or Nothing.
St. Augustine said it so well: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and no matter what the anti-theists of this culture say, the creation of man and woman was the summit of God’s work of making. We are made in God’s image and God’s likeness. We are so made because it is God’s intention to finish his work when our life is done, to make us His adopted daughters and sons, to divinize us. We are, as St. Paul says, the adopted offspring of the Father, which is why we can call God “Our Father.” That means we are the heirs of the Father if we remain one with His Son by nature, Jesus Christ. So we are destined to be either holy or not, divine or damned. There is no middle path. For us, it’s either union with God or snacks for Satan.
So when we hear of famous stars or politicians or even clergy caught in some scandalous and objectively sinful dalliance, or outright abuse of others, what do we do? We lament and pray for those who have committed spiritual murder, yes, but then do we think that because a churchman made himself a slave to evil habits, we should abandon Christ’s Church? That would be responding to a spiritual assassin by committing spiritual suicide. No. Our Lord has given us the ordinary path to salvation through the sacraments, through the ministry of the Church. And, yes, deacons can baptize and preside at marriages and pray over one who dies. But we are the ordinary ministers of those sacraments that in an emergency, the bishop can authorize any lay person to do. Christ has instituted the priesthood and has given us priests and bishops so that we may have the fullness of grace, the complete touch of the divine that confirms us and reconciles us and gives us His very Body as our spiritual nourishment. Yes, all men have sinned, and all of us clergy are sinners–every one. But to turn one’s back on the Church because Her leaders sin is to tell Christ that His way is offensive to us, that we want another path. That is a path of pride; that is an embrace of the mammon of self-will. It’s God’s way or nothingness.