Friday, April 30, 2010

Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness

Below is the text of an inspiring homily given by Fr. Roger J. Landry, a Priest of St Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

 

The text "Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness" is a bit long

but it is worth reading especially for Catholics who want to know

some answers...

______________________________

 

 
The headlines were captured recently by the news that perhaps up to
seventy priests in the Archdiocese of Boston have abused young people whom
they were consecrated to serve. Today, I'd like to tackle the issue
head-on. You have a right to it. We cannot pretend as if it didn't exist.
I'd like to discuss what our response should be as faithful Catholics to
this terrible scandal.


The headlines this past week did not focus on the Patriots' march to the
Super Bowl, or on who would QB, Drew or Tom, or even on the President's
state of the union address and his comment that there are many Al-Qaeda
operatives in the US like "ticking time-bombs." None of these was the top
story.


The headlines were captured by the very sad news that perhaps up to
seventy priests in the Archdiocese of Boston have abused young people whom
they were consecrated to serve. It's a huge scandal, one that many people
who have long disliked the Church because of one of her moral or doctrinal
teachings are using as an issue to attack the Church as a whole, trying to
imply that they were right all along.


Many people have come up to me to talk about it. Many others have wanted
to, but I think out of respect and of not wanting to bring up what they
thought might be bad news, have refrained, but it was obvious to me that
it was on their mind. And so, today, I'd like to tackle the issue head-on.
You have a right to it. We cannot pretend as if it didn't exist. And I'd
like to discuss what our response should be as faithful Catholics to this
terrible scandal.


The first thing we need to do is to understand it from the point of view
of our faith in the Lord. Before he chose his first disciples, Jesus went
up the mountain all night to pray. He had at the time many followers. He
talked to his Father in prayer about whom he would choose to be his twelve
apostles, the twelve he would himself form intimately, the twelve whom he
would send out to preach the Good News in His name. He gave them power to
cast out demons. He gave them power to cure the sick. They watched him
work countless miracles. They themselves in His name worked countless
others.


 Yet, despite all of that, one of them was a traitor. One, who had
followed the Lord, who had had his feet washed by the Lord, who had seen
him walk on water, raise people from the dead, and forgive sinners,
betrayed the Lord. The Gospel tells us that he allowed Satan to enter into
Him and then sold the Lord for 30 pieces of silver, handing him over by
faking a gesture of love. "Judas," Jesus said to him in the garden of
Gethsemane , "Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" Jesus didn't
choose Judas to betray him. He chose him to be like all the others. But
Judas was always free, and he used his freedom to allow Satan to enter
into him, and by his betrayal, ended up getting Jesus crucified and
executed.


So right from the first twelve that Jesus himself chose, one was a
terrible traitor. SOMETIMES GOD'S CHOSEN ONES BETRAY HIM. That's a fact
that we have to confront. It's a fact that the early Church confronted. If
the scandal caused by Judas was all the members of the early Church
focused on, the Church would have been finished before it even started to
grow. Instead, the Church recognized that you don't judge something by
those who don't live it, but by those who do.


Instead of focusing on the one who betrayed, they focused on the other
eleven, on account of whose work, preaching, miracles, and love for
Christ, we are here today. It's on account of the other eleven - all of
whom except St. John was martyred for Christ and for the Gospel they were
willing to give their lives to proclaim to us - that we ever heard the
saving word of God, that we ever received the sacraments of eternal life.


We're confronted by the same reality today. We can focus on those who
betrayed the Lord, those who abused rather than loved those whom they were
called to serve, or we can focus, like the early Church did, on the
others, on those who have remained faithful, those priests who are still
offering their lives to serve Christ and to serve you out of love. The
media almost never focuses on the good "eleven," the ones whom Jesus has
chosen who remain faithful, who live lives of quiet holiness. But we, the
Church, must keep the terrible scandal that we've witnessed in its true
and full perspective.


Scandal is unfortunately nothing new for the Church. There have been many
times in the history of the Church when the Church was much worse off than
it is now. The history of the Church is like a cosine curve, with ups and
downs throughout the centuries. At each of the times when the Church hit
its low point, God raised up tremendous saints to bring the Church back to
its real mission. It's almost as if in those times of darkness, the Light
of Christ shone ever more brightly.
 I'd like to focus a little on a couple
of saints whom God raised up in these most difficult times, because their
wisdom can really guide us during this difficult time.


St. Francis de Sales was one saint God raised up after the Protestant
Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was not principally about
theology, about the faith - although theological differences came later -
but about morals. There was an Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, who went
down to Rome just after the papacy of the most notorious pope in history,
Pope Alexander VI.


This pope never taught anything against the faith - the Holy Spirit
prevented that - but he was simply a wicked man. He had nine children from
six different concubines. He put out contracts against those he considered
his enemies. Martin Luther visited Rome just after Alexander VI's papacy
and wondered how God could allow such a wicked man to be the visible head
of his Church. He went back to Germany and saw all types of moral
problems. Priests were living in open relationships with women. Some were
trying to profit from selling spiritual goods. There was a terrible
immorality among lay Catholics. He was scandalized, as anyone who loved
God might have been, by such rampant abuse. So he founded his own Church.


Eventually God raised up many saints to combat this wrong solution and to
bring people back to the Church Christ founded. St. Francis de Sales was
one of them.
 At the risk of his life, he went through parts of what is now
Switzerland , where the Calvinists were popular, preaching the Gospel with
truth and love. Oftentimes he was beaten up on his way and left for dead.
Once he was asked to address the situation of the scandal caused by so
many of his brother priests. What he said is as important for us today as
it was for his listeners then. He didn't pull any punches.



 He said, "Those who commit these types of scandals are guilty of the
spiritual equivalent of murder," destroying other people's faith in God by
their terrible example. But then he warned his listeners, "But I'm here
among you to prevent something far worse for you. While those who give
scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take
scandal - who allow scandals to destroy their faith - are guilty of
spiritual suicide.
" They're guilty, he said, of cutting off their life
with Christ, abandoning the source of life in the Sacraments, especially
the Eucharist.
 He went among the people in what is now Switzerland trying
to prevent their committing spiritual suicide on account of the scandals.
I'm here to preach the same thing to you.


What should our reaction be then? Another great saint who lived in a
tremendously difficult time can help us further. The great St. Francis of
Assisi lived in the 1200s, which was a time of terrible immorality in
central Italy
 . Priests were setting horrible example. Lay immorality was
even worse. St. Francis himself while a young man even gave some scandal
to others by his carefree ways. But eventually he was converted back to
the Lord, founded the Franciscans, helped God rebuild his Church and
became one of the great saints of all time.


 Once one of the brothers in the Order of Friars Minor asked him a
question.
 The brother was very sensitive to scandals. "Br. Francis," he
said, "What would you do if you knew that the priest celebrating Mass had
three concubines on the side?" Francis, without missing a beat, said
slowly, "When it came time for Holy Communion, I would go to receive the
Sacred Body of my Lord from the priest's anointed hands."



 What was Francis getting at? He was getting at a tremendous truth of the
faith and a tremendous gift of the Lord. No matter how sinful a priest is,
provided that he has the intention to do what the Church does - at Mass,
for example, to change bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, or in
confession, no matter how sinful he is personally, to forgive the
penitent's sins - Christ himself acts through that minister in the
sacraments.



Whether Pope John Paul II celebrates the Mass or whether a priest on
death row for a felony celebrates Mass, it is Christ who himself acts and
gives us His own body and blood. So what Francis was saying in response to
the question of his religious brother that he would receive the Sacred
Body of His Lord from the priest's anointed hands, is that he was not
going to let the wickedness or immorality of the priest lead him to commit
spiritual suicide. Christ can still work and does still work even through
the most sinful priest. And thank God!



If we were always dependent on the priest's personal holiness, we'd be in
trouble. Priests are chosen by God from among men, and they're tempted
just like any human being and fall through sin just like any human being
.
But God knew that from the beginning. Eleven of the first twelve apostles
scattered when Christ was arrested, but they came back; one of the twelve
sinned in betraying the Lord and sadly never came back. God has
essentially made the sacraments "priest-proof," in terms of their personal
holiness. No matter how holy they are, or how wicked, provided they have
the intention to do what the Church does, then Christ himself acts, just
as he acted through Judas when Judas expelled demons and cured the sick.



And so, again, I ask, "What should the response of the Church be to these
deeds?" There has been a lot of talk about that in the media. Does the
Church have to do a better job in making sure no one with any
predisposition toward pedophilia gets ordained? Absolutely. But that would
not be enough. Does the Church have to do a better job in handling cases
when they are reported? The Church has changed its way of handling these
cases, and today they're much better than they were in the 1980s, but they
can always be perfected. But even that is not enough. Do we have to do
more to support the victims of such abuse? Yes we do, both out of justice
and out of love! But not even that is adequate. Cardinal Law has gotten
most of the deans of the medical schools in Boston to work on establishing
a center for the prevention of child abuse, which is something that we
should all support. But not even that is a sufficient response.


 The only adequate response to this terrible scandal, the only fully
Catholic response to this scandal - as St. Francis of Assisi recognized in
the 1200s, as St. Francis de Sales recognized in the 1600s, and as
countless other saints have recognized in every century - is HOLINESS!
Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is
a crisis of saints. Holiness is crucial, because it is the real face of
the Church.



There are always people - a priest meets them regularly, you probably
know several of them - who use excuses for why they don't practice the
faith, why they slowly commit spiritual suicide. It can be because a nun
was mean to them when they were nine. Or because they don't understand the
teaching of the Church on a particular issue. There will doubtless be many
people these days - and you will probably meet them - who will say, "Why
should I practice the faith, why should I go to Church, since the Church
can't be true if God's so-called chosen ones can do the types of things
we've been reading about?" This scandal is a huge hanger on which some
will try to hang their justification for not practicing the faith. That's
why holiness is so important.



 They need to find in all of us a reason for faith, a reason for hope, a
reason for responding with love to the love of the Lord
. The beatitudes
which we have in today's Gospel are a recipe for holiness. We all need to
live them more. Do priests have to become holier? They sure do. Do
religious brothers and sisters have to become holier and give ever greater
witness of God and heaven? Absolutely. But all people in the Church do,
including lay people! We all have the vocation to be holy and this crisis
is a wake-up call.



It's a tough time to be a priest today. It's a tough time to be a
Catholic today. But it's also a great time to be a priest and a great time
to be a Catholic. Jesus says in the beatitudes we heard today, "Blessed
are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of
slander against you falsely because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your
reward in heaven is great."
 I've been experiencing that beatitude first
hand, as some priests I know have as well. Earlier this week, when I
finished up my exercise at a local gym, I was coming out of the locker
room dressed in my black clerical garb. A mother, upon seeing me,
immediately and hurriedly moved her children out of the way and shielded
them from me as I was passing. She looked at me as I passed and when I had
gone far enough along finally relaxed and let her children go - as if I
would have attacked her children in the middle of the afternoon at a
health club!


But while we all might have to suffer such insults and slander falsely on
account of Christ, we should indeed rejoice. It's a great time to be a
Christian, because this is a time in which God really needs us to show off
his true face. In bygone days in America , the Church was respected.
Priests were respected. The Church had a reputation for holiness and
goodness. It's not so any more.


 One of the greatest Catholic preachers in American history, Bishop Fulton
J. Sheen, used to say, that he preferred to live in times when the Church
has suffered rather than thrived, when the Church had to struggle, when
the Church had to go against the culture. It was a time for real men and
real women to stand up and be counted. "Even dead bodies can float
downstream," he used to say, pointing that many people can coast when the
Church is respected, "but it takes a real man, a real woman, to swim
against the current."



How true that is! It takes a real man and a real woman to stand up now
and swim against the current that is flowing against the Church. It takes
a real man and a real woman to recognize that when swimming against the
flood of criticism, you're safest when you stay attached to the Rock on
whom Christ built his Church. This is one of those times. It's a great
time to be a Christian.


Some people are predicting that the Church in this area is in for a rough
time, and maybe she is, but the Church will survive, because the Lord will
make sure it survives. One of the greatest comeback lines in history
happened just about 200 years ago. The French emperor Napoleon was
swallowing up countries in Europe with his armies bent on total world
domination. He then said to Cardinal Consalvi, "I will destroy your
Church." "Je detruirai votre eglise!" The Cardinal said, "No you won't."
Napoleon, all 5'2" of him said, "Je detruirai votre eglise!" The Cardinal
said with confidence, "No you won't. Not even we have succeeded in doing
that!"


If bad popes, immoral priests and thousands of sinners in the Church
haven't succeeded in doing so from the inside - he was saying implicitly
to the general - how do you think you're going to do it? The Cardinal was
pointing to a crucial truth. Christ will never allow his Church to fail.
He promised that the gates of hell wouldn't prevail against his Church,
that the barque of Peter, the Church sailing through time to its eternal
port in heaven, will never capsize, not because those in the boat won't do
everything sinfully possible to turn it over, but because Christ, who is
in the boat, will never allow it to happen. Christ is still in the boat
and he'll never leave it.



The magnitude of this scandal might be such that you may find it
difficult to trust priests in the same way you have in the past. That may
be so, and that might not be completely a bad thing. But never lose trust
in Him! It's His Church. Even if some of those he chose have betrayed him,
he will call others who will be faithful, who will serve you with the love
with which you deserve to be served, just like after Judas' death, the
eleven apostles convened and allowed the Lord to choose someone to take
Judas' place, and they chose the man who ended up becoming St. Matthias,
who proclaimed the Gospel faithfully until he was martyred for it.


This is a time in which all of us need to focus ever more on holiness.
We're called to be saints and how much our society here needs to see this
beautiful, radiant face of the Church. You're part of the solution, a
crucial part of the solution. And as you come forward today to receive
from this priest's anointed hands the sacred Body of your Lord, ask Him to
fill you with a real desire for sanctity, a real desire to show off His
true face.



One of the reasons why I'm here in front of you as a priest today is
because while I younger, I was underimpressed with some of the priests I
knew. I would watch them celebrate Mass and almost without any reverence
whatsoever drop the Body of the Lord onto the paten, as if they were
handling something with little value rather than the Creator and Savior of
all, rather than MY Creator and Savior. I remember saying to the Lord,
reiterating my desire to be a priest, "Lord, please let me become a
priest, so I can treat you like you deserve!" It gave me a great fire to
serve the Lord.


Maybe this scandal can allow you to do the same thing. This scandal can
be something that can lead you down to the path of spiritual suicide, or
it can be something that can inspire you to say, finally, "I want to
become a saint, so that I and the Church can give your name the glory it
deserves, so that others might find in you the love and the salvation that
I have found." Jesus is with us, as he promised, until the end of time.
He's still in the boat.


Just as out of Judas' betrayal, he achieved the greatest victory in world
history, our salvation through his passion, death and resurrection, so out
of this he may bring, and wants to bring, a new rebirth of holiness, a new
Acts of the Apostles for the 21st century, with each of us - and that
includes YOU - playing a starring role. Now's the time for real men and
women of the Church to stand up. Now's the time for saints. How do you
respond?






ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Fr. Roger J. Landry. "Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness."
Unpublished homily.


Reprinted with permission of Fr. Roger J. Landry.


THE AUTHOR


Father Roger J. Landry was ordained a Catholic priest of the Diocese of
Fall River, Massachusetts by Bishop Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap. in 1999. After
receiving a biology degree from Harvard College , Fr. Landry studied for
the priesthood in Maryland , Toronto , and for several years in Rome .
After his priestly ordination, Father returned to Rome to complete
graduate work in Moral Theology and Bioethics at the John Paul II
Institute for Marriage and Family. Father Landry is parochial
administrator of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford , MA , and
executive editor of The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of
Fall River. His homilies are posted each week at

 saintanthonynewbedford.com.