Grace to you!
A concerned Catholic emailed me. She was heartbroken because of the horrible news regarding the alleged homosexual predatory actions of a retired top-ranking US Cardinal. In addition, there is the horrifying Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. Her faith was shaken. Her tears were intense.
The woman isn’t in this alone. Over the past two months, many Catholics have been scandalized and horrified by the reports we read. Many clergy, bishops and priests, who are dedicated to their vows and the service of the Lord and God’s people, are in deep sorrow too.
Has there been a week another saddening news doesn’t break? The cases of abuse of minors by bad apples, Judases amidst numerous devout clergy—and their manipulations, seem more real than many of us thought. As a priest, when I walk down the street or in the shopping mall wearing my roman collar, the shadow over my head seems to suggest, “Are they thinking of me as one of them too?”
As I prepare this reflection before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, I’m deeply saddened. The pain is unbearable. I’m agonized by thoughts of many victims of the obnoxious practices, and the victims of other perpetrators in the priesthood, and in the wider society.
As a priest, charged with the spiritual care of people like the woman who wrote me, I don’t know the right words to say to the faithful who have been scandalized by our bad example. Forgiveness isn’t enough. Zero tolerance plus holding the culprits accountable, no matter their place in the hierarchy, is necessary. I pray for the victims, their family and friends, for justice, healing and grace of restoration. I pray for all of us, the faithful, also.
I pray for the conversion of sinners too. Reparation for the sins against the vulnerable in our midst. Reparation for the sins against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as mother Mary consistently asked during the Fatima Apparition.
My heart is bleeding. I feel now more than ever, since my priesthood, the pains of betrayal. My religious, pious sensitivities and love for the Lord and His Church, make me mourn to see how we cause grave wounds to the Body of Christ.
I believe this is a moment of decision. In the past, during the exilic experience of the people of Israel through the desert (Jos 24), they were faced with many difficulties—social, cultural, religious, moral, economic and political. They were torn between affirming faith in God who had saved them from slavery in Egypt and choosing an alternate religious cult.
The leader, Joshua, sensed their religious dilemma. He didn’t keep silent and allow it to simmer. Rather he confronted it head-on. “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Jos 24:15). When the faith is challenged by new evidence that seems to make us to question, “Why am I a Catholic?” “Why am I a believer?” “Why am I a priest?” “Why choose to enter the seminary?” It is the right time to reaffirm one’s faith.
There is incredible wisdom in the Church’s Liturgy. There is wisdom in every line of the liturgical prayers. So it is in the Eucharistic celebration. Every Sunday, we are called after the homily to reaffirm our faith--The Profession of Faith.
We need to profess our faith as many times as possible. The profession of faith, the Creed, is a prayer and a constant reminder of why we believe what we believe. The profession is a testimony against the challenges to our faith also. Did you notice that there is no place in the Creed, where Catholics profess “I believe in the Clergy…bishops, priests, deacons?”
During one of my teaching series on EWTN on “The Faith with Fr. Maurice”, also in my book,Our Journey to God, I had emphasized that a faith centered on people is an idolatrous faith. Scripture says, trust in God not in people (Ps 118:8). We are humans and capable of doing terrible things if God's grace isn't with us. Give the devil a little chance, and the consequences are disastrous. By the way, this should not be a reason for the clergy not to lead examples consistent with their holy vocation.
If you are a believer, when you face temptations to the faith, reaffirm your faith in the Lord and in His body, the Church. We can’t separate the head of the Church, Christ, from His body, the Church (Col 1:18; 24; Col 2:19; 1 Cor 12:21; Eph 5:29-30).
The Lord Jesus showed us a similar example in the Gospel of John chapter six. After the long and astonishing teaching on the subject of the Eucharist, the “source and summit of the Christian life,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1324), the Lord saw that many left him. They couldn’t accept the teaching.
He was left alone with the twelve. He, as God, knew their hearts. He knew he had given a teaching which only faith and professed faith can stand. He didn’t wait for them to battle with it and suppress it. Psychologists tell us that there are times suppressing a problem makes it worse.
So, the Lord confronted it. He asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67).
I believe this question is appropriate this day, this week and the coming weeks. Concerning the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals, many faithful (laity and clergy) will have to deal with similar questions regarding their faith in the Lord and, more importantly, their faith in the Church, the Body of Christ and in the Eucharist. I sense that other facts may come out in the open in the coming weeks, many of which will be more troubling to the faithful. I believe the Lord is purging His Church. The question will continue to reoccur until the moment of purging is over. “Do you also wish to go.”
Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69.
I pray that Peter’s response is ours also. We profess this faith. We reaffirm it. We can’t go from the Lord. We embrace the Eucharist. We hang in there with the Lord and His Body, the Church, while we work together, chaired by the faithful laity, to see that justice is done.
Culprits should be made responsible for their heinous actions. Victims will find justice through proper accountability and just restitution. Hopefully, and praying, there will be closure. In matters of this kind, it is not enough that justice is done. Justice must be seen to have been done.
In the meantime, “I believe. We believe.”
I pray for you, for the grace of fidelity, as well as firm resolve to see that justice is done. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[21stSunday Ordinary Time B: Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Eph 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32; Jn 6:60-69]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.