Perhaps it’s my physical distance from the United States of America at the moment watching the news from Philadelphia and Washington DC, and points in between unfold on my Twitter feed. Maybe it’s the days of reflection in absolutely breathtaking (literally breath-taking) surroundings. It’s certainly the near-physical pain I feel in my heart for the Mystical Body, The Church of Jesus Christ that I love and have pledged my life to serve. At any rate, it’s prompted some reflection and emotion, so I thought I would include it here as part of my Camino blog. It’s long (as all of these are, so sip a bourbon and read on).
My first thought when both the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick surfaced and the Attorney General of Philadelphia report hit the news was that I am not present in my parishes to offer an ear and my heart to listen to my parishioners. I trust that my sabbatical is happening according to The Lord’s time, but it still hurts to be so far away when there is deep anger, profound sadness, and likely extreme disorientation. There are so many ways that I fail daily as a father to them, but even I know that this is a time that the shepherd ought not to be apart from his flock.
Like all people of good will, I’m filled with horror—sheer horror. I’m horrified at the Satanic calculating, grooming, and execution of unspeakable sins against the innocent young and those aspiring to priesthood. And make no mistake, this isn’t simply psychological disorder, a psychotic break, or psychopathic tendency; no, I’ve been a priest long enough to know the foul stench of The Deceiver, The Destroyer, The Divider. He’ll piggyback on the consequences of Original Sin and weave his gossamer web of false-comfort to the soul. If Satan was attempting to sift Peter and the Apostles like wheat as Christ went to the cross, then it doesn’t take a spiritual master to see what happens when an apostle is seduced to believe that the cross and The Church are only a chessboard on which to set the snare to quench carnal desire. Be gone! Vade Retro Satana!, I say. Drink your poison yourself! It sickens me and it angers me.
I’m what we jokingly call a “lifer” meaning that I entered formation in 1999, right out of high school. I had an excellent experience as a child and as a young man within my parish church community. My parents were good models of Christian life. The priests for whom I assisted at the altar and knew outside of Mass were good-hearted men. The lay leaders in my parish and at my school were sincerely interested in my development as a child and especially encouraging because they could see in me, long before the pieces would come together in my heart of hearts, the growth of a priestly vocation. So nourishing was this environment, that I can say my choice to enter the seminary was so natural, so organic, so certain at my very core. That certitude exists today. I know that God called. I know that it was nourished by family, friends, and faith community. Their impact on my childhood was invaluable. That’s how God has so designed the interaction between husband, wife, and child(ren) and priest with parish community. Two families made one flesh by Jesus Christ, the bridegroom of The Church.
This is where I see the insidious work of Old Scratch, as the Old Norse called the Prince of Lies.
The first wave of sexual abuse allegations against priests broke in 2002 when I was still a relatively new seminarian. They rolled out for months upon months, all over the United States, and eventually in Ireland: allegations of priests molesting children – the young, the innocent, those with faith-receptors wide open.
What followed soon after was the famous Dallas Charter wherein United States Conference of Catholic Bishops pledged to institute safeguards to ensure that proper reporting of alleged abuse, proper care for victims, and proactive training for those in ministry would commence on an unprecedented scale. I won’t debate all the ramifications this policy had; suffice to say that it represented a recognition that something must be done to protect our young from predatory individuals. This public resolve remains very important.
It was then, though, that I noticed a shift in how ministry was occurring. As a seminarian, still involved in youth ministry, I took part in the trainings. The information was sound. But, something began to happen concurrently with the training. Many began to look at the seminarian and the priest with skeptic eye. What exactly do you gain by your “ministry” with my child? the collective glare seemed to say. And this is the weed planted among the wheat: unilateral suspicion.
Bishops, priests, seminarians, and nuns of good repute began to keep a bit more distance. In my early years of priesthood and even today, I stand a bit farther back in the lives of the children and the young of my parishes. And this, I believe, is part of the plan of the Evil One: to intentionally distance the minister of God from the child seeking faith, hope, and charity outside the family and in the parish community. In the name of safety, we stand first a millimeter back, then a meter, and finally at a considerable distance.
All this, because Satan stirred disordered passions in some at at time when Holy Church was at the crossroads of a modern era and an already falsely liberated culture. The false liberation? Sex as use of another as an object over love of a fellow subject of God. It’s an old temptation writ anew. Saints, popes, theologians – those often quoted in the Office of Readings in The Liturgy of the Hours– knew it a thousand years ago. Adam and Eve knew it the moment they looked up and saw only meat instead of flesh and spirit.
And here it is again, with a new vengeance, even higher up the ranks of Christ’s Church. The same old wound from The Garden bleeding again.
What begins to turn this around? Did Jesus die for nothing if these sins still persist even in the ones who would claim to stand at the altar in His stead? No. The price He paid has indeed vanquished the Ancient Foe and we must enter anew into that payment plan. St. Paul reminds us that when we willingly take upon our shoulders a bearing in the sorrow of the other members of the Mystical Body, it is no mere “sending of good thoughts”. It is a true participation in the scourging at the pillar. When we willingly cry out for mercy to Heaven for those sins that have been committed (which themselves cry out to God!), in our flesh we are “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24).
This is what is missing from so many statements of so many bishops. There must be a willingness to do penance. “But father! I didn’t do anything! Why should I get on my knees?” It’s simple and twofold:
St. Paul: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it...” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
St. John’s Gospel: “And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse; so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer [and fasting].” (Mark 9:26-29)
There is merit to be gained for our souls and the souls of others. Manifold graces are to be given to the contrite heart. And there is even hope for those who have made themselves the enemies of God and men. As Christians, this is the difficult yet clarion call that begins to snip the web of the Devil. This is what brings reform and renewal; this is what begins to rebuild the Church as a hospital for souls.
Our Lord: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)
Our perfection as humans lay not in remaining in righteous anger, but in transitioning that anger into a cry for heavenly justice and mercy – both graces only God can give and no earthly magistrate can adequately satisfy. By our humility before the Lord, we will secure our own souls for heaven and provide a trickle of cool water for the deceived soul who has so long been deprived of the activities of Grace in it.
How do we do this?
Priests, Bishops: Please! Pray the Masses for Reconciliation (in the Ordinary Form) when you are able to do so in your parishes. It’s in the Missal. Invite your parishioners. Make a Holy Hour for Reparation. The Pauline Sisters have a great resource. Be willing to be close to your your flock! Don’t just state the policies. Engage the Enemy at the Altar where his power has no grasp. Turn back the Foe with the Power of the Cross!
Celebrate Mass reverently, deliberately, and directed toward God and not the self.
Renew a commitment to private prayer. Pray and fast. Say your Rosary!
Faithful Flocks: Go to Mass! Go to Confession! Say your Rosary! Pray, even through gritted teeth, for those priests and bishops who have fallen. Pray for mercy! Pray for the victims. Pray for their healing. Support your faithful priests and please pray for us.
Even in suffering and anger, be not afraid to be a joyful, yet mournful Catholic. Mary provides us this model in her sorrowful heart. Thought she knows the injustices done against the heart of her Son, she still prays for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Imitate her goodness, and union with Christ will also be the desire of your soul.
If it sounds preachy, then I suppose it is. I’m not in my parishes at present, and I can’t exhort my flock. So, I‘ll have to settle for the three of you reading my blog!
Don’t lose hope! Don’t tap out and leave for a “feel good” church! Don’t pretend that suffering has no place in doing good for souls! Onward we press, through this time in history, because God wishes to make us saints of our own era. In a time when the Devil demands to sift us like wheat and empty us of all zeal, we find joy in The Lord and though wounded we must not stop loving.
Peace! Onward to Hornillos de Camino tomorrow! Onward to Santiago!