Last week, the Holy Spirit presented me with an opportunity, and I blew it. For that, I apologize to Him and to you.
I was scheduled to preach at my parish last Sunday. Here was the first draft of my first paragraph in my homily notebook: “‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God...All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.’ I’m pretty sure I violated this exhortation from St. Paul on June 20th when I read the news that then-Cardinal McCarrick had been removed from public ministry. Since then, I’ve been following the…”
And that’s as far as I got before drawing a big “X” through the whole thing and starting over.
I ended up not mentioning at all the specific McCarrick scandal or the broader abuse scandal. Just two days later, the Pennsylvania attorney general released his grand jury’s report. That’s when I realized I had really blown my opportunity. Again, especially to my parishioners who heard me preach last weekend, I am sorry for allowing fear and pride (in the form of putting too much stock in my own (in)ability to address this issue well) to close me off to the promptings of the Spirit.
Since Tuesday, many faithful laypeople, religious sisters and brothers, deacons, priests, and bishops have taken to the airwaves and the internet to express their shock, sorrow, anger, sadness, bitterness, and a host of other reactions. Many bishops--including my own--and priests have personally apologized on behalf of all their brothers, even when they themselves have had no personal involvement in or knowledge of any such horrifically sinful (and, in many cases, criminal) situations.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, many who already had an ax to grind against the Church are taking this “opportunity” to try to advance their own pre-existing biases and arguments against Her--against us. Even more sadly, the re-emergence of the ugly head of this scandal is leading some of the faithful into doubt and despair. This is where our job becomes clear: We must show up.
We must show up to Mass this Sunday. Even if we are righteously angry at the perpetrators, we must show up to Mass this Sunday. Even if we are justly disgusted at the system that protected them, we must show up to Mass this Sunday. Even if we are understandably feeling mired in doubt and despair, we must show up to Mass this Sunday. Even if we are worried about being associated with this scandal by the mere fact that we hold the Catholic faith, we must show up to Mass this Sunday.
We can agree or disagree with the responses of our bishops and the hierarchy of the Church, but skipping out is not an option. We can put more or less money in the collection basket than we did last week, but staying home is not an option. If we allow these prominent and inexcusable sins of some of our most public leaders to keep us from being fed by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then we forfeit, we surrender.
The Church perdures through the scandal and sin cast upon it from without and from within. In fact, the Church perdures in response to scandal and sin because She exists for the worship of God and for the sanctification of the world. Sinners of all shapes, sizes, and degrees comprise the Church, but we do so along with saints of all shapes and sizes, and we do so as potential saints ourselves.
One of the quickest, surest ways to deactivate that potential is to quit showing up. That is also one of the quickest, surest ways to contribute to the deactivation of that potential in others.
The Church is not ours. The Church is us, with Our Lord Jesus Christ as its head. Just five days before the Pennsylvania report was released, the Gospel for Thursday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time was from Matthew 16, including verse 18: “‘And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.’”
Jesus Himself has promised that the Church will survive this and all Her future trials, so let’s not abandon the ship but instead put our oars in the water. Let’s discover God’s infinite mercy flowing to all the world through His Church, and let’s be vessels of that mercy. I’m not claiming that this will be easy. In fact, it is absolutely impossible on our own. But we’re not on our own. We are the Body of Christ, and we have the Body of Christ, but to be it and to receive it, we must show up.
I’ll see you tomorrow.