20th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Bear with me for a minute or two while I drop into Professor Mode. A little history is necessary for any of what follows to make sense. Way back in the second and third centuries a heresy arose among Christians living in N. Africa. During the Roman persecutions, many Christians, including bishops and priests, apostatized – they renounced their baptism vows and offered idolatrous worship to the Roman Emperor. Not only did they offer worship to a false god they also betrayed their fellow Christians to the enemy, naming them and their families and sending many of them into martyrdom. Those who turned their backs on Christ and his Church were called “traditors,” those who hand over, traitors. When the persecutions ended, the traditors came back to the Church and asked to be forgiven and re-admitted. The laity among them were given severe penances and the clergy were declared defrocked. Some in the clergy though continued to celebrate the sacraments. Several bishops declared that any sacrament celebrated by a former traditor bishop or priest was invalid. They taught that only morally pure priests and bishops could celebrate the sacraments validly. Thus begun the 200 year long heresy known as Donatism.
If you've been paying attention to the most recent clerical scandals in the Church, you know why I started this homily the way I did. You are also probably asking yourself the same question I've been asked multiple times in the last few weeks: why should I remain Catholic? The Church is hopelessly corrupt. I'll give you the same answer I've been giving since 2002: No. The Church is not corrupt. The Church is indefectible, without defect. The Church is impeccable, without sin. Those who govern the Church – from the Pope on down to the parish priest – are not without defect nor sin. But the Church is more than the clergy. More than the religious. More than the laity. The Church includes – even now – more than 2,000 years of men and women who have given their lives to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. That adjective “catholic” means that the Church is universal in both time and space – in heaven, on earth, and in the world to come. You and I do not cease being Christians b/c we sin. And the Church does not cease being holy b/c some of her clergy choose to serve the Enemy.
St. Augustine confronted the Donatist heretics and routed them. The moral state of a priest's or bishop's soul has no effect on the validity of the sacraments he celebrates. The principal celebrant of every sacrament is Christ himself. The ordained minister stands in personae Christi Capitis. So, whether my soul is black with mortal sin or not, this Mass will be valid. Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. ” Why should you stay in the Catholic Church? This evening you will be given the Body and Blood of Christ. You will be given true food and true drink. And if you receive worthily, you will walk out of this church tonight as a living, breathing tabernacle of the Real Presence of Christ, taking him – his mission and ministry – out into the world for the salvation of souls. Paul tells the Ephesians, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise. . .” The foolish person may abandon his/her only source of true food and drink. A wise person would never allow the evil of another to chase him/her away from the Lord. Be angry. Be frustrated. Be disappointed. I am! And I'm ashamed. What I am not is foolish! No matter bad it is or how bad it gets, Jesus reassures us, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” The wise soul will never be far from that altar.
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