Fr. David weighs in on The Situation
Homily Notes: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
[N. B. For those who do not normally read Catholic Blogs: The phrase, “The Situation” is shorthand for the clergy sex-abuse scandal, the concomitant cover-ups, the media frenzy, etc.]
The Catholic Church in the United States has been rocked these past few years by the nightmare of the sex-abuse scandal. This is by far the greatest crisis, the lowest point, in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. There is only one way to describe the actions of any member of the clergy who has abused a child, or exploited a young person: monstrously wicked, criminal, despicable, loathsome, reprehensible, fiendish, nefarious. Rather, scratch all that, adjectives fail utterly to get to the nadir of this disaster. It doesn’t matter how miniscule the percentage of clergy involved: One child harmed is one too many. Hiding or covering-up these crimes must also be forcefully condemned.
Although the focus these past two years has been on the Catholic Church, as a Social Worker I know from personal experience, the shocking scope of sexual abuse against children extends to countless other professions, and sadly most often to the relatives of victims. One study puts the number of victims of child sexual abuse at 40 million in the United States alone. Perhaps the tragedies in the Catholic Church can serve to raise the alarm about this broader calamity.
In the face of such grotesque iniquity one could easily (and understandably) be led to reject the Church entirely. But this would be a sad mistake. That would be like having cancer and saying, “Well some doctors are negligent quacks, therefore, I reject modern medicine.” The fact is that if we reject the Church, we reject Jesus; it’s as simple as that. The Church is Christ’s Body, which He gave us as the sacrament of salvation. And we cannot separate Christ the Head from the rest of His Body.
Our rugged American individualism deceives many into a false “me and Jesus” mentality. There is no “me and Jesus,” no solipsistic, radical autonomy where the two of us are separate from all others. There is only Jesus and His Church, and even that suggests a false duality. As St. Paul says, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) And, “the body is one.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) Jesus is the head, and we are the members of His Body, the Church. There can be no separation of the two.
I think of St. Joan of Arc, a woman who was condemned and murdered by agents of the Catholic Church. You can still read her decree of execution signed by bishops and theologians. St. Joan of Arc, at her trial spoke well of the Church in relation to Jesus, when responding to her judges, she said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter” (CCC 795). This sums up scripture’s testimony, the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of all believers.
People today often try to divorce Christ from His Church, to cut off the Head from the members. This is impossible. Christ’s Body is one and undivided. Clearly it is also torn and wounded; it has been from apostolic times. Indeed we read about wickedness, schisms and heresies right in the New Testament.
Some people attempt to separate and label “the institutional Church,” “Rome,” “the Hierarchy,” or “the Vatican” as “bad,” while leaving the “rest of the Church,” “the people” as “good.” Nonsense. Others proclaim, “We are Church” and so we are, along with the Pope and the successors of the Apostles. There is no, “Us” and, “Them.” We’re all in this together. The Church is Christ's one Body, not two, undivided.
Similarly, some speak of “sweet and gentle Jesus” and His message of peace. They entirely forget or ignore the considerable difficulty and challenge of the Gospel. “Sweet and gentle Jesus” makes Him sound like a pussycat. A more accurate description would be the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” They say, “I’ll take two servings of Easter, thank you, and three helpings of Christmas, but you can keep that teaching on abortion.” This is another false dichotomy. There can be no false split between the teachings of Jesus and His Church.
The Church proclaims Christ’s teaching, and no other’s. Indeed, when the Church is stubborn about her teaching, she is merely being faithful to Christ. Even when the Church addresses matters that were not considered 2000 years ago, we know that Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, guides us into all truth. Indeed, He promised, “Lo I am with you always, until the end of the world” and “When the Spirit of Truth comes He will guide you into all truth.” He will not abandon us, and He does not let His Church fail in its teachings on faith and morals.
Nevertheless, we are left unsatisfied with our original objection unaddressed. What are we to think of the scandals, of the mysterium iniquitatis, the mystery of evil, into which we see members of the Church, even the most trusted leaders of the Church fall?
We need look no further than the Body of Christ. In the Body we find, stinky, nasty, filthy goo. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be overly disturbed by what moves through the Church’s bowels, and is on its way into the latrine, as Jesus said. Similarly, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to the flakes; that is, what flakes off Christ’s Body, the Church.
Indeed, if I may be so bold to offer a bit of advice: Don’t get too caught up in the local Church, and I don’t just mean the Church in Michigan, or the Church in the United States, or even the Church all over the world. That’s just the local Church. The real Church, the real body is a vast array, a huge assembly, a countless multitude, a glorious family of saints, martyrs, prophets, teachers, preachers, healers, priests, religious, married men and women, and simple people of all stripes who spent their lives loving and serving Jesus Christ. This glorious people is the real Body of Christ. In the light of The Situation, in our place and time, it is even more crucial to keep our perspective on the whole Body: Head and members all.