Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

25 August 2018

The Difficulties of an Indifferent Distance

 I'm not sure how to follow up from last week in light of more recent developments along similar lines. Fortunately, Providence gave us these readings.


Church, we’re hurting right now. There are the varied crosses that each of us has, things we join to the bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of the Incarnate Son. But we don’t expect the Church herself—especially her ordained leadership—to be building crosses of suffering, confusion, and anger for her people.

 It threatens to sap the credibility and potency of our preaching. But always recall that the best space in which we speak is not merely human, not just our choice of words or opinion.

 For example, it’s definitely not my opinion but the sound word of Saint Paul that we be “subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The subjection of wife to husband may sound objectionable nowadays, except alongside the command that husbands “love [their] wives as Christ loved the Church [by handing] Himself over to sanctify her.”

 That seems the trouble: our failure as bishops and priests to love you sacrificially. St. Michael’s, the People of God everywhere, are my flesh and I am called to nourish and cherish you as my own, to present you to Christ in splendor, for holiness. That’s hard to do from an indifferent distance. 

 These failures to love make it harder for Christ’s Bride, the Church, to recognize Him as the Divine Bridegroom and to subject themselves to Him, just as inattentive, adulterous, addicted spouses devoid of sacrificial love might discourage loving subjection to them.

 Like any other climate, the current one challenges everyone who wants to be their best. This applies to the Church as well as the “outside world,” especially since it’s become harder to tell a Catholic from anyone else.

 Today’s Gospel opened with people walking away when Jesus said something difficult. What was the problem? Over the past few weeks Jesus was rolling out Eucharistic doctrine. To paraphrase: “Physical miracles won’t be enough to nourish your discipleship and lead you to eternal life. Instead, My heavenly Father gives you Me as the Bread that satisfies. Not just “Me” in some vague sense, but My flesh and blood. You will share in the eternal life I share with the Father if you gnaw on My flesh and slurp My blood.” 

 Pair that with St. Paul’s hard saying about mutual submission out of reverence. Consumption of the Eucharist corrects our consumption of each other as playthings, means to selfish ends. Membership in Christ’s Body, the Church, must change the way we think about and act towards each other. Decide, then, whom you will serve, and how you will sustain that service.

07 August 2018

The Scandal of the Cross; the Cross of the Scandal

“For He revealed His glory in the presence of chosen witnesses and filled with the greatest splendor that bodily form which He shares with all humanity, that the scandal of the Cross might be removed from the hearts of His disciples and that He might show how in the Body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled what so wonderfully shone forth first in its Head” (Preface, Feast of the Transfiguration).

“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

Hey, Catholics in 2018: You think so? Will a sight-and-sound-spectacular relieve the devastation of those affected by sexual abuse, especially at the hands of our own clergy who either committed it or allowed it to persist?

Then again, upon that mountain of the transfiguration and the hill of the cross, Jesus saw all this coming. No scandal has caught Him off guard. Somehow He has seen fit to respect human freedom to do such curseworthy things. It understandably remains the greater scandal that we allowed all this to happen, that leaders quietly continued the behavior by their further sinful actions against, and sinful failures to act for, abuse victims.

The feast of the Transfiguration showed up as if to signal the release of the grand jury report (presumed to be any day now). A day, like any other, that the Lord has made (Ps 118), though sinful human beings have lent these particulars of the grave misuse of power and sexuality.

Priests, bishops, and deacons initiated and/or enabled inappropriate relationships mostly with young males, yet also with men and women of majority age. These realities, recorded over several decades, came to the fore in 2002, but since then newer incidents have occurred, and other older incidents have been reported.

In their 2002 Dallas meeting, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops created "The Charter for the Protection of Young People." The recent news of abuse by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick reveals the lack of oversight of the actions of bishops and the dangers of directing all accountability in these matters to bishops alone.

Under the hashtag #metoo, social media have been collecting countless stories of sexual abuse victims. While the movement began outside the Church, the Church unfortunately has added plenty of her* own stories.

The Collect for the Transfiguration proclaims that the Lord's splendid bodily form removed the scandal of the Cross from disciples' hearts. No doubt, a matter of faith, since the misuse of sexuality and power profoundly disfigures the person's innate bodily and spiritual dignity as a child of God--at least for many of the victims' own eyes.

Abuse often fosters abuse, of others or self, sexual and otherwise. One instance is abhorrent enough, but cycles and networks of it further obscure the "[fulfillment of] what so wonderfully shone first" in the Incarnate Son.

Christ's Body on earth, the Church, also bears the wounds of victims--yes, the ones that received abuse from her own leaders, but also the wounds of all victims and of their perpetrators.

The scandal of the Cross, the Cross of the scandal, is included among the poverty which Jesus once declared "you will always have with you" (Mt 26:11). That Catholic clergy and others entrusted with pastoral care have inflicted Christ's precious members with their own unchecked drives is an obstacle to faith in the Church and her Redeemer. And yet, we believe that Our Crucified and Risen Lord experienced victims' suffering upon the same Cross on which He bore the sins that caused the suffering.

I don't know if we will ever corporately "do better." That is part of my own crisis of faith in this regard. The corporate is only as good as the individual, so individually we can only do as better as the next choice before us, by refraining from all instances of exploitation and by focusing ourselves on holiness and virtue; and this too is beyond my limited power alone.

*In most of my discourse I have followed traditional use of feminine pronouns for the Church, reflecting the image of the Church as the spotless Bride of Christ. All members of the Church relate to Jesus as recipients and active respondents to His Total Gift of Self. Abuse can hinder the "spousal" receiving and giving of love in the hearts of victims, but God (may He be praised) can accomplish more than we know in anyone.