My friends, I began my reflections for today with somewhat of a heavy heart. You see, I have been carrying, as I know you have too, the pain, anger, and lack of understanding of the actions of the hierarchy of the Catholic church, with regard to the clergy-sex abuse crisis and its cover-up by those who should have been protecting the most innocent among us and instead chose to protect themselves. The pain and anger for me are about a Church that I have loved all my life and the lack of understanding are about how power for them could be more important so as to justify abuse, especially, of children, to protect it.
This Church that has been my beacon, (supposedly) for the way that I should live my life; has, in its hierarchy, lost its way, by forgetting the words of their leader, our brother, Jesus. And sadly, with so much already uncovered evidence in just one state in our union with the assurance that every state in our union has similar caches documenting more of the same types of abuse as was discovered in Pennsylvania; the People of God still await the word of our Pope and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as to what they intend to do to stop these crimes once and for all!
Our Scriptures for this 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2018 give them and us all the direction that is needed. Moses in his declarations to the Israelites is clear: Observe [the Commandments] carefully, demonstrating wisdom and intelligence in your actions. James, in the second reading continues, “Humbly welcome the word that is planted within you.” Additionally, “act on this word—because if all you do is listen to it; you are deceiving yourselves.” I love James’ forthrightness! And finally, he declares that, “pure, unspoiled religion” is all about coming to the aid of those in need. For the Israelites, it was the widows and orphans. For us, in our time, it is abused little kids, teenagers and young adults, male and female.
Jesus, our brother, our beacon to follow, says well I believe, the only way we can collectively, as a church of believers look at this situation, from those who occupy the pews, to those who dispense the sacraments and supposedly lead the faithful, “These people honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me—you disregard God’s commandments, but cling to human traditions.”
We read in today’s gospel how the Pharisees and others in Jesus’ time got “lost” in the rituals and forgot the message to love—because that is really what it is all about, right? Jesus tried to tell them. We can look to ourselves as well and see the same.
Through my years of Catholic upbringing and for many of you too; we were diligent about keeping First Fridays, fasting during Lent, abstaining from meat on all Fridays, attending Sunday Mass and other such rituals. We might also reflect on our motives for these actions back then—were they actions completed out of love and a desire to grow closer to God through Jesus, or were these actions done more out of fear that if we didn’t; we would go to hell when we died? Like the Pharisees, it might be said that we lost our way, those in the pews, those who dispensed the sacraments and those who were expected to be our leaders.
If we did all the rituals out of love as opposed to fear, it might now be easier to see and realize that this current crisis in our church calls for the deepest and most profound commitment that we can muster. It calls for all the gifts and fruits of the Spirit that we received at our confirmations; that of strength, forbearance, goodness in great measure, truth-telling—no matter to whom the truth must be spoken!
In an ideal church, our Pope, our local bishop, perhaps even one priest here might have spoken out publicly decrying a Church that would so grievously abuse its young and further cover-up the crimes to protect their power. We, all of us must each do our part—many if not all of us know priests personally, perhaps the bishop, in our city or elsewhere—we must write them, talk to them, confront and demand that they act for themselves, for us, for our Church—whether that means talking with the bishop or speaking out individually—the credibility of our Church as a moral leader in our midst is at stake. This is my challenge to each of us.
The Scriptures today are indeed clear—if we merely listen to the law and do not act upon it, Jesus tells us, it means nothing. Giving lip service when “heart” service is what is called for, falls woefully short! Jesus tells us today; it is not that which we take into our bodies (the wrong food, on the wrong day), that makes us “unclean,” unwholesome, or evil, but that which comes out of our hearts, of an evil nature—we are capable of both, good and bad.
The more the human heart is looked at by theologians and others, it is becoming clear that good and evil originate there, even more so than in our minds. We never talk of someone having a “good mind” with regard to doing “good” actions in life—we might say, “They have a “good heart.”
How the Grinch Stole Christmas depicts a character out of the imagination of Dr. Seuss who was said to have a “heart that was two sizes too small.” Therefore, I would add, all the good that can also come out of our hearts and we do not do, makes us “unclean,” unwhole, and less than Jesus’ followers too!
So, my friends, pulling this all together, our faith calls us in these distressing times to put forth all the good our hearts are capable of—speaking truth to power, speaking truth wherever and whenever we can, demand the action from the hierarchical church that Jesus would, and if you and I get “crucified” for it, we will at least know that we were part of the solution and not part of the problem, plus we are in some pretty good company!
Most of us have nothing to lose but our standing in our families, perhaps and, in our communities, but now is a pivotal time in our Church and if we don’t do the piece that we are called to do, who will? The question we might ask ourselves this week, “Is our Church worth that much to us—its moral standing? Will history record this time, this year, 2018, when we were called to make a difference and we turned a deaf ear, or will it remember us and others as those that finally, finally put our faith into action! Amen? Amen!