Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XXIII per Annum B

9 September 2018

I’ve been reflecting on my past two sermons on the crisis in the Church.  The first time I spoke on this I surprised myself by the intensity and emotion that came out of me.  Last weekend was like getting a bigger picture and a context that I could not appreciate in my anger the first weekend I spoke on these events.  I want to make sure that no one has a mistaken notion that the data I shared last weekend means I am saying the Church is now “in the clear.”  Today I want us to consider the wrath and anger of God who has been deeply offended by the heinous crimes committed in His Church and by His churchmen.  Whatever good the Church has done to address abuse, I think it is time for all of us as the Body of Christ to simply say to victims for whom the statistics never change: We are sorry.  Though we may not be personally guilty, we accept guilt and blame on ourselves and accept the call to do penance and to make reparation for the harm done to the innocent.  In accepting guilt on ourselves, you see, we are being Christlike in a most particular way that conforms us to the saving work of the One who most certainly is not guilty and is not responsible for sin, but who freely took our sin on himself in order to save us on the Cross.

Why does any one of us, not personally guilty, do penance for this situation?  You might want to say, “Sure, Father, maybe a priest or a bishop ought to do penance for sins of priests and bishops, but why us, why the laity?”  The Body of Christ is made up of many parts (1 Cor. 12:12, 14, 20, 27-30).  We do not all have the same function.  But we do share life and we do have the same primary vocation to holiness of life.  This holiness is a personal response to Jesus in our lives.  This holiness is a matter of our participating more fully in salvation.  This holiness is also a corporate matter of permitting the Church of Jesus to be seen for who she is, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  The Church’s sanctity can’t be fully seen if the laity aren’t involved.  The laity are the majority of the Church’s members.  All of us together must be living members of this Body.  We can demonstrate now that we are living members of the Body of Christ by joining together and participating in what the Church now needs from us.  St. Paul writes about the unity of the Church: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).  Our common experience tells us the truth of this.  Are you sick and angry about what you have heard and read about our Church, about some of our priests and bishops?  I know I am.  That’s the truth this Scripture reveals.  Why are you sick and angry if you aren’t part of this?  The sick and angry feeling I imagine we all feel at this time shows how we, as the Body of Christ, are united.  If we feel the harm that has been done by a few, then we can understand the call to likewise all be involved in penance and reparation for our Church.  Furthermore, when individually we don’t admit sin, then we aren’t moved to repent of it in the way Jesus gave us to repent; and when we don’t repent, then we don’t receive purification and healing that comes to us in confession.  We as a Church take on penance and reparation so that a more thorough purification of the Church takes place.  We are called to be part of that.  The only lasting solution to this mess is a closer relationship with Jesus.  We each need that individually and we each need to be part of this now for the Church.  I am convinced that the stories of saints are being written right now by God.  Will you let God write that story in you?

For a few weeks now I have prayed and thought about what to suggest to our parish in response to these events in the Church.  I have my own personal plan that I will keep mostly private.  But as a public person, I probably need to say something about the decision to shave my head.  I mean it as a sign of mourning and penance.  I am telling you this because I ask you, please, don’t treat it as something silly or an item for humorous conversation with me.  In another climate it would be a light, trivial matter, but it is for mourning and penance.  I explained this to the non-Catholic lady who cuts my hair.  She immediately understood the reasoning and added: “Oh sure, you’re sort of stripping yourself and avoiding the vanity of appearance.”  If I hadn’t been stunned by her faith and understanding, I should have said, “Do you want to become Catholic?”  Perhaps this appearance can serve as a visible reminder to pray for victims, to pray for priests and bishops, to pray for me, for Fr. Bali, and for Fr. Mejia.  Now I want to move into my suggestions for penance and reparation at the parish.

To understand my suggestions you need to keep in mind some basic assumptions I believe about this situation.  If you find yourself wondering, or if you find yourself in conversations and people are asking, “Why would Father suggest this or that?”  “Why would Father do that?”  Come back to these three assumptions because they tell you how I see this moment and therefore they inform my suggested response:

I think we are dealing with something truly diabolical.  Fasting and prayer and an awareness of serious battle lines is necessary.  The first clergy scandal in the Church’s history happened among the apostles.  Judas betrayed; Peter denied; nine others fled; only John remained.  One out of twelve.  And Jesus picked them all!  St. John’s Gospel tells us Satan had put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus and that Satan entered him in the very act of eating at the Last Supper (cf. Jn. 13:2, 27).  Judas bore his own personal responsibility, but the marks of Satan’s coordination were also evident.  I think we have something similar in the current crisis.  Satan has had his influence and entered the hearts, the minds, and the perverse wills of some priests and bishops.  What a masterpiece the devil has orchestrated, getting the cooperation of human sinners, to infiltrate the priesthood (which is the sacramental image of Christ) in order to deform the Body of Christ.  Some demons can only be expelled by prayer and fasting (cf. Mk. 9:29).  I urge that from all of us.

The state of affairs here demands serious penance, penance on a biblical scale.  The “I’m giving up candy” for Lent response is not adequate, unless you are a small child.  We are being called to radical penance and reparation because I believe we are being prepared by God for the grace needed for a new wave of evangelization of a world that has become increasingly secularized, a secularization that has also wormed its way into the Church.

I think we need to consider what Jesus says is the greatest command (cf. Mt. 22:36-40).  Jesus says the first is to love God with all that you are.  This can guide our response and make sure we give focus to rightly ordering our relationship with God first.  From proper relationship with God first and foremost, love of neighbor then follows.  It is a natural and rather socially acceptable thing to work for the good of our neighbor.  But I am not sure we as a Church keep an intense focus first on God.  You see, it is easy and satisfying and gives us a sense of accomplishment to jump into action instead of first being quiet before God and placing ourselves in His presence.  But if we don’t start with God, then our action is out of order and it distorts the great command as Jesus described it.

A text and audio copy of my remarks will be on the parish website and a summary will be sent to your email if we have an address.  As always, if you would like further explanation or discussion of any aspect of my suggestions, please get in touch with me.  Here is what I suggest for our parish; five ideas for penance and reparation:

Attend Daily Mass: In particular, five consecutive Wednesdays the daily Mass intention in our chapel will be “In Reparation,” asking healing for victims of abuse and repair for sins of the clergy.  These Wednesdays start September 12 and end on October 10.  You are encouraged to join in the chapel for the Mass at 5:30 pm, preceded by confessions.  I chose five Masses in honor of the Five Sacred Wounds of Jesus (which are his wounds of piercing: 2 hands, 2 feet, and his side).

Fasting and abstinence on Wednesdays and Fridays.  From antiquity, Christians fasted on both Wednesdays (marking the day Jesus was betrayed by Judas) and Fridays (marking the day Jesus died for our sins).  Challenge yourself to observe meatless days (that’s what abstaining means in this context) and even fasting (which means taking only one main meal) in reparation for the sins and crimes of the clergy and for healing of victims.  The older practice of what are called “Ember Days,” which were quarterly times of penance, sort of like quarterly mini-Lents, can also be observed with fasting.  The fall Ember Days are:

                Wednesday, September 19

                Friday, September 21

                Saturday, September 22

Weekly Holy Hour: Commit to one Holy Hour each week before the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel.  You can make visits 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  In addition, I will preside over a public time of adoration for healing of victims and in reparation for the sins of priests and bishops on Thursday, September 20, from 7-10 pm.  Come and go as you please in that time frame and know that you can join me in prayer and that I will lead various public prayers throughout that evening.

Invoking Mary & St. Joseph: I encourage each of you to pray the Rosary daily and to pray it as a family at least weekly for the intention of the healing of victims, conversion of the clergy, and sanctity in your family life.  We pray the Rosary about 30 minutes before the start of each Holy Mass on the weekends.  Can you commit to coming to church early enough to make the Rosary?  At the conclusion of these Rosaries before weekend Masses we will add a prayer to St. Joseph.  You can get a copy of this prayer for private and home use too.  I want St. Joseph invoked with our praying of the Rosary because I am convinced one of the roots of the crisis of abuse and cover up among priests and bishops is what I described as a weak masculinity that has resulted in the loss of the ability to be fatherly.  I want us invoking St. Joseph, the patron of fathers, protector of the Church, and terror of demons, so that a stronger masculinity and fatherly spirit may prevail.  I would like husbands and fathers of the parish to step up to volunteer to lead the Rosary before Masses and, men, I’d like you to take charge of this in your homes.  You might say: “I don’t have all the prayers of the Rosary memorized, Father.”  My response is: You can do it.  Get over it.  Get a pamphlet.  Look it up online.  This is not rocket science.  But it will propel the Church more than you can imagine!

Invoking St. Monica: The collect prayer for the Mass of St. Monica mentions two characteristics of our parish patroness that we should develop: tears for conversion and bitterly regretting our sins.  In particular, I want to enlist women and mothers to pray through the intercession of St. Monica for conversion and repentance, especially among clergy.  In the face of large-scale apostolic betrayal in Jesus’ time, when only one apostle stayed close to Jesus in his suffering, it was mostly a group of women who maintained a closer devotion to Jesus.  In the time of St. Monica her devotion eventually led to the conversion of her wayward son, so that he became Christian and an outstanding bishop.  I ask our women today to band together like those women in the apostolic age and like St. Monica to pray for our priests and bishops.

There is much darkness coming out of our Church right now that shakes all of us.  I suspect things will get worse before they get better.  As ugly as things may be, we should thank God that it is coming out into the light so it can be dealt with and purified.  I am convinced that in this darkness, things we cannot see are coming to new life.  I am convinced that the stories of saints are being written right now.  Half-measures and complacency won’t be in those stories.  But disciples making a radical decision to turn to Christ will.  Being saints together is the most enduring answer we can give to victims who have known the darkness in the Church but who long to see the light.  Don’t be closed to being saints.  Rather, let the groan of Jesus echo deep in your heart, mind, and soul: Ephphatha!  Be opened!  With our impediments removed may we go forth with ears opened to God’s Word and with voices ready to speak plainly and to proclaim that Jesus heals and saves us!