Monday, August 27, 2018

Do you want to go away too?

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B (2nd Homily)

We unabashedly profess in our Creed that the Church is Holy. But we humbly and sadly acknowledge that the Church is also made up of sinful members, whose lives are sometimes totally at odds with that universal call to holiness. In the past months and weeks, I’m sure you have heard, as I have, “I’ve had enough,” from many within our Catholic community. With all the revelations of abuse and questions of the culpability of those religious leaders who did not address the problem in an open, transparent and timely fashion, the wounds of so many that may have begun to heal have been opened up again with similar strains of anger, disillusionment, even disgust, and many are saying, “I’ve had enough.”

The scandal of clergy sexual abuse has grown from being, as the church once claimed, about a few bad apples, to a world wide disaster stretching across various continents, revealing not only cover-ups by bishops of priests’ behaviour but accusations against archbishops and cardinals. Those who hold the authority of teaching, guiding and governing us. Those who have been entrusted to preach “the message of eternal life”. As I read report after report, commentary after commentary on the current crisis, I was assailed by a cocktail of emotions. As a priest, I felt both ashamed and demoralised. If that was my experience, I dare not imagine how the victims, their family and the laity would react to this avalanche of damning exposes.

Even if the Church is now trying to address more openly the terrible reality of abuse by its clergy, the stories that continue to emerge about the global dimensions of the problem and especially the pattern of denial and secrecy on the part of the hierarchy challenge all of us to ask how we continue to find light and peace and hope in the face of darkness, distrust and disgrace. Some people feel that the behaviour of their leaders are “intolerable” and believe that they can no longer in right conscience remain associated with an institution that is so corrupt.

It is in the midst of such a crisis of trust in the leadership of the Church, and anticipating that many of the faithful are contemplating to walk out if they have not already done so, the confession of Simon Peter at the end of today’s gospel is heartening, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.” This comes immediately after a major walkout of followers of Christ. They find his claims and his teachings “intolerable.” This was a sad watershed moment in Jesus’ ministry. From now on the crowds begin to thin out. The cross on Calvary would begin to draw near. Following Jesus’ would lose its celebrity appeal and attractive shimmer. The pain of seeing the disciples leave Jesus must resonate with most of us. We’ve seen how friends, family members, relatives, fellow BEC or parish members leave the Church. There seems to be a plethora of reasons why people do so. Some are disenchanted with their priests or with fellow church members. It doesn’t help with all these scandals we hear or read about in the media.

But the Twelve remained, at least for now. They too will flee when the going gets tough, when our Lord gets arrested. But for now, the words of Peter helps us to make a fine and necessary distinction between personalities and the content of their teaching. Of course, it is only natural that we often confused the two. So many flock to parishes or churches who boast of priests and pastors with cultic personalities. Likewise, so many turn a deaf ear to this or that cleric, just because they have cause to dislike them. Rarely do people pay real attention to the content of their teachings and its fidelity to Truth. In other words, popularity often trumps Truth. And that is why we priests are not only tempted by sexual sins and material possessions. But perhaps apparent, the sin of wanting to appear popular. When we try to bend or window dress the Truth, we risk losing not just authentic love but also our souls and the souls of those whom we commissioned to guide, to teach and to sanctify. When we are too busy pretending to be someone else, someone affable, someone attractive, at the expense of the Truth, then we end up selling the people a lie, and that perhaps is the greatest abuse of our ministry.

We are all scandalised, and rightly so, by the sins and failures of some of the Church's members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But let this not distract us, as Satan wishes to do, to see that it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8). He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you. Where so many human shepherds have failed the People of God, this Good Shepherd will never betray your trust. Like Peter, we are challenged to make that same confession, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life!”

Our Lord poses that same question to us today, “What about you, do you want to go away too?” The question involves both a push and a pull dimension.  A “push” question - Why go? If it is to find a safer haven, a less corrupt and more pristine Church, “with no speck or wrinkly or anything like that, but holy and faultless.” then I think that many will be disappointed.  A “pull” question - Why stay? There may be a hundred reasons to leave, but only one fundamentally good reason to stay - Because Christ chose to stay. It is because of His choice, that we can truly claim, without any trace of hubris on our part because we can take no credit for it, that the Church is Holy. The Church is Holy, because she is the Bride of Christ. The Church is Holy in spite of the sinfulness of its members, because the Church is the Body of Christ, who chose to die for us sinners. When Jesus died, his community fell apart. He had been betrayed, denied, and most of his disciples fled. It is easy to remember the many “Judases” and their painful betrayal but difficult to remember the courageous and exemplary holy souls like St Peter and the apostles and many good faithful Catholics who choose to stay! If we are thinking of walking out because of Judas, think again. It’s not Judas that we are walking away from. It’s from Jesus. As much as the Enemy tries hard to paint a bleak picture about the Church, we should not lose sight of the bright holy radiance that She gives through the saintly and exemplary lives of her sons and daughters. That’s the power of the resurrection.

The darkness within the Church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed because of our refusal to acknowledge it. But the light within the Church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. If the answer to darkness is light, then the antidote to sin is holiness. Our answer to all these horrific revelations which highlight the sins of the members of Body of Christ, should not be to walk out, to despair, to give in to resentment and wanting to get even. It is fine to feel shocked and to be angered. But unless we move on in the path of light, seeking to be witnesses of light, striving to bravely live our lives in holiness, then sin would truly have the last word. For when we choose to focus only on the darkness that we see in the Church, we will miss the consolations the Church offers, out of concerns for its shadows.

I want my Church to shine. I know you want the Church to shine too. And she shines best through the beautiful lenses of the saints, whom one author likens to stain glass windows allowing the light to enter the darkness of the Church’s interior. But I understand that everything, from our institutions to our innermost beings, are seen through a glass, darkly. Before, we can appreciate that light, we need to clean the soot, the dust and the dirt of those windows - there must be purification, there must be cleansing, there must be repentance and reparation. So don’t leave, there is a big clean up job to be done and we need all the help that we can get. Only then can we make our way forward, in bright hope, as we reach beyond the darkness of sin to the Light of the Eternal One.

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