Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sex, scandal, and the glory of the Catholic Church

Over the past three weeks there have been some eye-catching headlines regarding scandal in the Catholic Church. Even our local town newspaper, the RiverEast, decided to weigh in the sins of previous popes. I suppose the intent is guilt by association. I am sorry to disappoint people but there will always be sin and there will always be scandal. Every since Adam & Eve committed the original sin of turning their backs on God, those striving for a life of holiness will encounter temptation and, yes, sin. This is what makes the Catholic Church so unique. It is a hospital for sinners-not a place where people get their act together so they can enter a perfect sanctuary with other perfect people. No. If you want that, go to a wax museum. The Catholic Church is a sacramental Church which means that grace is conferred irrespective of the holiness/or lack thereof the church's minister. In many respects this is so counter to the "Cult of Personality" that often grows around gifted speakers in our Hollywood saturated culture. This is also why we can take comfort in the Lord's promise to Peter that "the gates of hell will never prevail against the church." Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer is a Polish priest who "died on September 8, 2009, after a life dedicated to spreading spiritual life connected with increasing adoration and love toward the Eucharistic Christ." The following excerpt is from his book The Mystery of Faith by Paraclete Press: " Crises may touch me personally, others, or whole communities. Many times in the past when such crises arose in the church and christian faith diminished, it looked like the end. Yet the church cannot perish. The church will endure until the end of time, as our savior promises. The gates of hell will not prevail (Mt 16:18). The crisis of faith among the faithful has sometimes spread so widely that to those of lesser faith it might have seemed that it was not a crisis of human belief but of the church itself. It looked as though everything had collapsed. I cannot imagine what St. Joan of Arc thought as she was being tried by a church tribunal. She experienced deeply engulfing darkness during her trial. She counted this as her Gethsemane, her Calvary. Her faith endured. She didn't confuse bishops for the church itself. Standing before the judging church tribunal which she knew wanted to sentence her to death, she said, 'The church is Christ.' I should not have total belief in people, even if they are bishops. If I do, on noting their failures, I may be in danger of a serious spiritual crisis. It is wrong to put all my hope in holy spiritual directors, holy priests, or bishops. All my hope should be in Christ on the altar by the power of the Holy Spirit as He shows forths His death on the cross. I need to have complete trust in Him, not in erring men and women. St. Francis of Assisi was unaffected by the evil of his time that flourished like raging flood waters. The bulls of Pope Innocent III, condemning the most shocking abuses of usury, business corruption, gluttony, intemperance, and debauchery, highlight a very gloomy picture of the church in the twelfth century....When I see that everything around me is collapsing, increasing evil and darkness that may engulf me, I need to remember the words of St. Paul: 'Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.'(Rom 5:20)If I see my personal selfishness or egoism in those around me, I can see it as an opportunity to look for the solution in the one place I can find it. I need to turn to the one who loves me and unceasingly transmits His redeeming graces on the altar. In my difficulties, He is here and now closer to me than ever." Fr. Tad finishes by saying "These thoughts inspire me to have the optimism to see that through faith all will be well. These thoughts inspire the peace and joy which can only flow from discovering the love present in the Eucharist. God wants to redeem everything. So he all allows what is bad so that He can make it completely different. 'Behold, I make all things new' (Rev. 21:5) St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, used to say that "this world's crises are crises of saints." If we see a particular evil running rampant we need to pray to God to send us saints that live a virtue which counteracts the evil. St. Bernardine of Siena encountered a very licentious society. Young men would run through the streets of Siena bragging about their latest sexual exploits with other men. To counteract this, St. Bernardine promoted devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. St Phillip Neri encountered a Carnival like atmosphere on the streets of Rome so he encouraged frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St. Teresa of Avila found herself going to confession to a priest who was publicly known as having several mistresses. Through her prayers the priest converted back to a life of holiness and zeal. St. Francis of Assisi was one time journeying through Lombardy where the people of a certain village, both Catholics and heretics, flooded the streets to meet him. A member of the heretical sect of the Cathari elbowed his way through the throng, and pointing to the village priest, said to Francis: "Tell us, good man, how can this shepherd of souls demand faith and reverence since he is living in notorious sin?" Walking over to the priest Francis knelt in the mire, kissed his hands and said: "I know not whether these hands are unclean or not, but even if so, the power of the sacraments administered by them is not diminished thereby. Those hands have touched my Lord. Out of reverence for the Lord I honor his vicar; for himself, he may be bad; for me he is good." How can we speak of glory? Easy. St. Gregory the Great said the night is darkest just before dawn. If we are experiencing a great darkness now then we can hope that the God we cannot see is very close. As Fr. Tad notes in his work: "Any kind of difficult situation is a trial of faith. I may feel alone and helpless in the face of such trials. Yet the truth is really quite different, paradoxically different. In these highly difficult moments, God is actually closest to me. In times of huge sexual temptations, Christ says to St. Catherine of Siena: 'I have never been so close to you as in this moment.' In such moments, God is simply just waiting for me. He is waiting for me to discover the value and treasure of the Eucharist. In every temptation, crisis, fear, or moment of despair, He wants to embrace and transform me by this redeeming sacrament." Have no fear. All will be well.

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