Recently I preached on the scandals that have caused searing pain in the Church. Not many people in the parish had spoken to me directly about the scandal, which worried me, because I knew that people were simmering. I asked around a bit and I could tell that people were upset. There was discontent, but perhaps they were afraid to tell their priest their fears and concerns. So to the people of my parish I spoke.
As a note, please see the image above this post. The parish of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Patton, PA offered a Mass of Reparation and a penitential procession on September 24. It was a beautiful and prayerful time to offer the Holy Sacrifice to atone for the sins of the clergy that we have heard about in the news recently and to pray for the victims.
Over the last few weeks I have struggled to give a good homily. Why is that?
Well the honest truth is I have felt sick: I am sick of sin. I hate sin. I hate it in my own life and in the lives of others. I hate it because it is an offense to God and the dignity of the human person. That’s why I talk about confession so much. Sin kills. I am sick of hearing of priests and bishops and cardinals who have hurt others. I am sick because I love the priesthood—it is Christ among us in a broken vessel. I am often times emotionally spent after reading the news.
Several years ago when our diocese underwent a Grand Jury report, I was in the Holy Land on a seminary trip. I became sick to my stomach, because I read the report for penance, and I had all sorts of temptations to leave before I was ordained a deacon. I persevered only thanks to the grace of God, and the prayers of many souls such as yourselves. Yet we continued to hear bad news off and on even during my last year in seminary. I heard a call from God to respond to at least do my part to help clean this up, in a very small way.
Then just a few weeks ago on the feast of the Assumption we heard of more bad things. The Attorney General released the report of the other dioceses in PA. The only comfort I could find was that our Blessed Mother somehow had arranged this timing—to give us the comfort of her presence in the midst of this darkness. To bring the sanitizing light to the darkness on her feast day. Thinking of the fact that she is body and soul in heaven and calls us to share that with her was what got me through. You may recall how I preached about her beating the devil with a bat. I really am given comfort by this image-I actually have it as a background image on my phone! Yet on the next few days I could barely get through Mass. The priesthood is a beautiful vocation and to see it abused to commit sacrilege is a terrible thing-a heinous thing. Thinking about these things in the news has been a roller coaster for me: just as it is for you, it is very stressful for me as well. I am grateful to God for the cleansing fire He is putting us through, but that doesn’t make it easy.
(Let’s take a break to see another great picture of our Lady of Good help.)
The smoke of Satan has entered the Church, and so what are we, you and me, to do? Are we, you, and I, supposed to throw in the towel? No. That is exactly what the devil wants. Our Saviour established the Church for the salvation of souls. I want to clean up this mess as much, if not more, than you do. I’m not a bishop or even a pastor, so I am pretty limited. But, I will do what I can. I know our pastor is also very serious about this. If you need to talk, I am here. If you need to report abuse, call the police. If you are concerned about our diocese, feel free to write or call our bishop. You have a right to express your concerns to our diocesan shepherd, just as he has a duty to be a shepherd to us.
I wear a cassock or clerics around town, and you can imagine the sideways looks from people (there’s a priest…), but I am a priest, so I dress as a priest. It’s as simple as that. I am not ashamed of the Catholic Faith. I love the Church because she is the spotless bride of Christ. You should also love our Catholic Faith! Do not be ashamed to be Catholic! The garment has been soiled but what is underneath shines brightly. Jesus promised to remain with us in the Sacraments even despite the sins of the priests and bishops. I am helped by going to confession every week. Think about what a great sense of relief it is to make a good confession and to hear the comforting words of absolution! No matter how sinful the priest, the Sacrament is just as real and just as powerful. What mercy God shows in using the Sacraments as powerful channels of His grace!
Reading how Saint John Vianney grew up in an age when many priests and bishops had embraced atheistic rationalism gives me hope. Why? Because he was a very holy priest and he rebuilt the faith in Ars! I have committed to spending more time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. I know I am being called to do battle—for my own soul and for your souls as well. I pray to Saint Michael every single day and on Thursdays I have started to pray a chaplet of reparation for priests, joining several priests across the country. I pray for you at every single Mass. I care about you, and I love you, and I want to help you get to heaven-that is the vocation of the priesthood. This whole situation is not easy for me, either, but I wouldn’t give up my vocation to the priesthood for anything. We are in a real spiritual battle, a real spiritual crisis, and how would it help the Church if the priests didn’t respond to this call to arms? The devil wants you and I to think that we are alone, that we have been abandoned. Yet this is not what Jesus promised us. He is the Good Shepherd who will see us through this. He remains with us in the Sacraments and the official teaching of the Church. What we are experiencing is what happens when the shepherds in the Church think it is a good idea to live by worldly standards, to live by the lies of the devil. We, you and I, must do our part to expel this smoke of Satan. We must return to the glory of the Catholic faith—allowing the joy of Christ to fill our lives and to spread this joy to the world. We remain close to Him in the Sacraments, because God works in powerful ways. I can attest to the many souls in sick beds who have been greatly agitated but when they are given the Anointing of the Sick they are finally at peace. I know in my own life when I am agitated, scared, upset, if I go and spend some time with our Lord in the Eucharist, I am given whatever strength I need. Praying the Rosary gives me comfort and helps keep my head in the game. Devotions: First Friday, First Saturday, Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction, holy images, chants, sacramental, devotion to the saints etc. really help. We need to get back to these. Some devils are only cast out by prayer and fasting, so we should recall the spiritual power that each of us contains because of the grace of God in our souls!
Father, give me something I can do. Pray the Rosary everyday. Invoke the Blessed Mother, meditate on the life of Christ. Make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament everyday. Pray for the Church. Prayer is not just petitioning God, but adoring him, thanking Him, offering our prayer as reparation. Listening and allowing the Lord to speak to our hearts. Another concrete way to pray is to fast: returning to the Friday practice of abstinence from meat, for example. There are many troubles these days: only the Lord can bring the peace you and I need.
Do I have a solution that will magically fix the problem? I’m one priest in the world, in the diocese. These trying times are the times that God will use to help purify the Church and to help each one of us become saints. God has placed me and you here in this place and in this time for a reason. It is not an accident that we are here. Those emotions you feel are good: it means you are human! Yet we cannot abandon ship. We cannot leave the Church established by Christ that will withstand the attacks of hell.
“A red and blue wave of filth and corruption has set out to overcome the world, throwing its vile spittle over the Cross of the Redeemer. Now He wants another wave to issue out from our souls — a wave that’s white and powerful, like the Lord’s right hand — to overcome with its purity all the rottenness of materialism and undo the corruption that has flooded the world. It is for this, and more, that the children of God have come.” (Saint Josemaria Escriva, The Forge, 23)