I want to share with you some insights that I have been given as I have grown in my faith and participation in the Mystical Body. Some of them have come with great pain, anger, and frustration that I still struggle with through the power of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. Some of these insights have been learned in my theological studies. The more I study of Church history, the more I realize that there really is nothing new under the sun. So I want to share these with you in the hope that it will help you rest more peacefully in the arms of Our Lord. In the end, we have little control over what happens within the Mystical Body. We can only influence our immediate circumstance. The more we understand that truth, the more we are able to to serve and be conformed to the Blessed Trinity in our own lives and share that life with others.
1. People within the Church, including clergy will hurt you, gossip, and stab you in the back. This can be a very hard reality to swallow. When we come to the Church we can expect a place of safety from the pain of the outside world. This just is not reality. It should be, but it is not. Members of the Church are sinful, including clergy. We are all in the process of being conformed to Christ. For others that is a quicker process, but for most of us, it takes a lifetime. We have favorite sins and vices, for many, especially women (sorry ladies!), that includes gossip. Women have a very bad tendency towards gossip. We are social creatures and when we are hurt, we like to talk about it. What we do not stop to consider is that gossip is sinful. It is sinful because it damages the reputation of another and is a gross violation of justice. It is especially damaging when it is aimed at a parish priest or someone we claim is a friend. Which brings me to another point, people we believe to be our friends will gossip when the right circumstances present themselves. It isn’t right, but in a sinful group of people, it happens. If we are prepared for these kinds of situations then we can give our pain to Christ. Christ knows humiliation, he knows gossip, he knows back-stabbing. These sins are never right, but we can be strengthened in our faith if we give it over to Christ and pray for those who would hurt us.
In order to change this sinful behavior, we must look to ourselves. Do we gossip or hurt others in our parish? If so, we need to make a conscious effort to stop. It takes discipline and habit. This is something that I have been working on within myself. I fail at times, but then I go back to Confession to seek forgiveness and the grace to not do it in the future. If we want to improve the life of the Church, then we must look at ourselves. I am sorry for those who have been victims of this sinful behavior. I know that it is deeply painful. I regret the times that I have participated in it. So, be prepared and overcome this inclination in yourself. Pray for the strength to forgive those who sin against you.
2. Priests and Bishops are not perfect. It can be very easy for members of the laity to idolize their priest or bishop. It can also be easy to be overly critical of our priest or bishop. We expect more from them and while that is somewhat understandable, it can become problematic. We should not hold our priest or bishop to any higher of a standard than ourselves. Why? Because we are all called to be saints, not just the clergy and religious. Priests and bishops are fallen sinful men, just like us. They fight the great fight against temptation and at times, they lose. They need our prayers because they wage a very serious battle against Satan. It gives Satan great pride when a priest falls. There may be times when our priest needs a friendly reminder of something that has happened. There may be a time a priest needs to be warned if they are preaching heresy and, in that case, it needs to be resolved by the bishop. There also are times when our priest or bishop preaches and teaches on a topic that we may not want to hear about, but that we need to hear. Before flying off the handle we should consider how God is working in our lives. We should ponder why our conscience has been pricked by his words. We need to hold a healthy view of the hierarchical and ministerial aspects of the Church.
3. Pope Francis is not perfect. Over the last century the Church has been blessed with many holy popes. Many have been canonized. There is no doubt in my mind that Pope Francis is a deeply holy man, but he isn’t perfect, not yet. He is clearly farther on the spiritual journey than most of us. His level of detachment from the material is of great inspiration and consternation for me. I struggle with that kind of simplicity, even though I know that is true freedom. He presents a challenge to me that I so desperately need. He is also very bright, but in a way that is very different from St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Both of those men were great thinkers, writers, and speakers. Those are great gifts and they are not gifts given to everyone. They serve a particular mission, while others are given gifts that serve different missions. Pope Francis is simpler and simplicity is not a bad thing. St. Peter was not a great theologian or philosopher, remember? Yes, his mistakes are broadcast for the world to see, which is no different from his predecessors. He says things that he probably should not or phrases things in ambiguous terms. Since he is not intending extraordinary magisterial teaching authority in his off-the-cuff remarks, people should rest easy and let it go. He will make mistakes, his are just more public. Plus, if we pay attention, we can see that he corrects those misconceptions through sound teaching later on. Perhaps, unlike us, he is more patient and finds the right time to offer correction. So pray for him and trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the deposit of faith.
4. The Church is no worse off today than in previous ages. I see this argument expressed quite often. I usually shake my head and chuckle. This exposes a gross ignorance on the part of many of the faithful. The Church, arguably, is in a much better position today than she has been in the past. Are there great heresies of our time, even within her ranks? Absolutely. Are Christians being murdered for their faith? Yes, unfortunately. But on the positive side of things, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and a great many of them worship and live their faith in some level of freedom. That can change overnight to be sure. No matter the opinion, whether that the Church is better off today or things are just as bad as they have always been, the reality is that today’s Church is not worse off. It is not worse just because of the age we live in. We cannot fall into the error of historicism, that is we cannot assume our time period is special, because it isn’t.
5. Heretics and factions have always been in the Church. Many Catholics are watching the Snyod on the Family with fear and trembling. I am not. People are getting themselves worked up in outrage and tizzies because of the German Church. There is no doubt that something is rotten in Germany. It is clear that we need to pray very seriously for the German hierarchy. There is a real possibility of schism, which is always a great tragedy. The reality, however, is that this is nothing new. Arius attempted to tear the Church apart through his denial of the divinity of Christ and overemphasis on Platonism over Revelation. St. Nicholas hauled off and punched Arius at the Council of Nicea in 325. The truth prevailed and we were given the wonderful philosophical and theological term: homoouious (same substance as the Father) that we say every Sunday through the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
So let me ask you. Have you heard of Docetists, Manicheans, Monophysites, Apollinarians, Gnostics, Monothelites, Albigensians or Iconoclasts? Quite frankly, have you heard of the Protestant Reformation? I love my Protestant friends, but I still believe them to be in error, most especially on the nature of the Church and the Holy Eucharist. The Church has always been full of factions with competing agendas. Heresies have been a battle of the Church since her institution as Our Lord died on the Cross. The heresies of our day just happen to be regurgitated heresies of old with sinful human nature mixed in. The heresies of our day are related to human sexuality and the nature of the family. That is why St. John Paul II gave us Theology of the Body. He understood well the heresies leading people into error and sin. So, before we explode every time we hear in the news that someone in the hierarchy is making a proposal that is heretical or heterodoxical, remember that it is nothing new. Pray for them, that in the end they will submit to Holy Mother Church rather than start a heresy that bears their name. Take a deep breath. It’s always been this bad. The Church has always been full of stupid, sinful, greedy, proud, gluttonous, and confused people. Sin makes us woefully stupid.
6. There is always hope. Scripture teaches us a great deal about human beings. It shows us the stupidity of sin, but also the greatness of human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God. When I am tempted to get angry with a member of the Church’s hierarchy or my neighbor in the pew, I remember that many people who fail in the beginning rise to the occasion in the hour of need. St. Peter denied Our Lord three times. All of the Apostles, except for St. John, fled and left Our Lord in His darkest hour. But, that is not where the greatest story ever told ends. No. The Apostles come back together. Our Lord returns to them regardless of their weakness and fear. He returns and says: “Peace be with you”. He gives St. Peter the great commission ‘to feed His sheep’. These men who left Our Lord were given the task of building the infant Church. And so, if St. Peter can deny Our Lord and then follow Christ to an upside down crucifixion, what are our leaders capable of today? What are we capable of through the power of the Holy Spirit? Many may go the way of Judas and despair. We must pray for their souls. Watch and hope. We must pray that if we undergo the test, we succeed and persevere in the end. You will see a great many of our leaders who have let us down in the past now rise to the occasion. Pay attention to those rather than despairing in those who fall. Pray and remember there is always hope.
Happy Feast of Corpus Christi!