05 August 2018

What crisis? What scandal??

18th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The Church is in a hard place right now. The media use the word “crisis” too easily – mostly to sell ads – but I don't think it's an exaggeration to describe where we are as critical. We've been here before. In 2002, in 1968, during WWII, in 1870, 1798, during the French Revolution and the Kaiser's Kulturekampf, all the way back to the 400 year long Arian heresy that started in third century of the Church. That we have been here before and survived should be a comfort to us. But somehow it isn't. Reading about a crisis and living through it are two radically different experiences. So, what do we do? As always, our Lord Jesus Christ shows us the way. The crowd finds Jesus “across the sea,” and asks him an innocent question: “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus hears and answers a different question, saying, “. . .you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. . .” Jesus is telling them – and us – to keep our hearts and minds stubbornly focused on his promise of eternal life. That's the food that will keep us fed through any crisis we must endure.

Now, if you are wondering what in the world I'm talking about – what crisis? What scandal? – I'd urge you to spend some time reading about Theodore McCarrick, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC. About the major seminary in Honduras. About the diocese of Lincoln, NE. I won't explain these now. Let it be enough to say: the sins of the Fathers are coming to light. . .again. And it ain't pretty. In addition to all this, a few days ago the Holy Father “adjusted” the Catechism's teaching on the morality of the death penalty. Whether this is just development of doctrine or a worrisome departure from tradition is a hotly debated question. As a Big Mouth Dominican Friar I'm ashamed to say that I can't answer that question just yet. My initial reaction to the adjustment was less than thoughtful. So, I've decided to just shut up and think on it some more. If you are aware of these issues then you are also aware that the Church is in critical condition; that is, we are at a point in our history where everything can change. And everything can change. Except one thing: God's promise of eternal life. Jesus reassures us: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

And that's where our attention needs to be – believing in our Lord Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life. I'm not saying we ignore the crisis. I'm saying that how we pay attention to the crisis and work to resolve it must be done with the heart and mind of Christ firmly in place. Like everything else of this world, this crisis tempts us to fall into the sin of despair; into self-righteous anger; calls for vengeance; and the sin I call Do-Somethingism – do-somethingism is the sin of rushing past our rational faculties “to do something” about a problem, to do something, anything!, to address what we believe to be the cause of our troubles. More often than not the solution we hastily put in place only causes more problems.* When we put on the heart and mind of Christ we see that sin is real. Human failure is real. And we also see that the Father's mercy is greater than any human failure. And do not forget: divine mercy does not preclude the possibility of human justice. Nor does it prevent the Church from making the changes necessary to prevent similar crises in the future. 

The bottomline here is this (and I'm saying this to myself as well as to you): Do not allow this crisis to undermine your faith! Your faith is deeply rooted in Christ Jesus. . .not a pope, not a cardinal or a bishop or a priest. We are the Body of Christ and him crucified. . .he suffered, died, and rose from the grave to sit at the Father's right hand. And so will we!

*For example, the Dallas Charter the USCCB put in place to address sexual abuse among deacons and priests. It does not include bishops. The way the Charter has been used by some bishops has driven a wedge btw the bishops and their priests, destroying trust and reputations. Not good. 

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