Of Ministers and Millstones

A Common Illness

Now, while I mentioned in my previous post that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth and grace, not all “Catholics” actually live the Catholic life. Think about it this way… It’s kind of like all people are sick (with sin) and those of us who are in the Catholic Church have made it to the hospital where we have the full suite of elixirs to slowly heal us (prayer, learning the truth, living the moral life, and receiving the Sacraments). However, even though we’re in that place of healing, some might neglect (or worse refuse) to make use of those medicines, so they fail to get better.

Not Taking Their Own Medicine

In this analogy, even the hospital staff (those who work for the Church–even to the highest levels) are also sick and need to continually to take advantage of the elixirs. Unfortunately, as has been seen by the recent scandals, many workers in God’s Church have not continued their elixir regiment. So they are getting sicker and sicker and making those around them worse off as well.

The Evil of Scandal

I am disgusted by and angry at what these men have done–both because of how they have hurt those vulnerable young men, seminarians, and young women (over which much ink has already rightly been spilled), but also because of how their acts have given scandal (bad example that draws people away from God). If a doctor dies from a sickness that his medicine is supposed to heal, people think his medicine doesn’t work–they don’t realize that he’s sick because he isn’t taking his own medicine. Similarly, if a deacon/priest/bishop/pope is found to have egregiously failed the moral life, people are turned away from the perfect elixir of Catholicism (lived fully) and are led to believe that Catholicism is a sham–no better than a cheap bottle of phony tonic water. So this perfect medicine is rejected without even being tried.

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

G. K. Chesterton

My previous post was about how Jesus said that those who do great works in His name are essentially on the same team. Right after that, however, Jesus warned us about scandal:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Mark 9:42

Obviously, the clerical abuse victims are not sinning by being abused, but they are driven toward the sin of rejecting God by the actions of these men (scandal).

So, while all people working in Jesus’ name are on the same team, there are many whose actions don’t always work for the good of the team. God Himself let us know that it would be better to be violently drowned than to be someone who works against Him. So, whether or not any earthly court exacts justice against these men and their atrocities, be assured that they will receive a full justice in the long run.

Do the horrible acts performed by Catholic clerics take away from the authority and holiness of the Church?

In short: no. To assume this would be to fall to the ad hominem logical fallacy (the character of the messenger changes the veracity of the message). As I described above, if many Catholic leaders failed to live the Catholic life, they’re failing to let the medicine of real Catholicism heal them. The same was the case in Jesus’ time–the scribes and Pharisees failed to live what they were teaching.

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

Matthew 23:1ff

The scribes and Pharisees were given the authority (Moses’ seat) to teach, but they misused it. They handed on the teachings, but they didn’t live them out. Similarly, Catholic leaders now have God’s authority to teach, but some have failed to live up to those teachings. Even St. Paul had to chide St. Peter (the first Pope) for acting hypocritically with regard to his interaction with Gentiles. (Galatians 2:11-14) This, chiding, however, doesn’t reduce Peter’s authority.

These inconsistencies (whether scribes, Pharisees, Peter, or today’s clerical abuses) cause scandal. Whereas they don’t reduce the person’s authority, they do reduce the perception of that authority in people’s minds. These scandals lead people to reject God. These people who are supposed to be on God’s side are effectively working against God.

It is a particularly serious sin when someone who is actually supposed to help people toward God, to whom a child or a young person is entrusted in order to find the Lord, abuses him instead and leads him away from the Lord. As a result, the faith as such becomes unbelievable, and the Church can no longer present herself credibly as the herald of the Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times: A Conversation With Peter Seewald, p. 23-25

Black Frocks

In 1919 Major League Baseball fans were rocked by the scandal that some of the Chicago White Sox players had possibly colluded in intentionally losing the World Series in exchange for money. This earned them the nickname of the “Black Sox.” We could say of many of today’s clerics that they have earned the title of “Black Frocks.” (I know, clerics are normally black, but you get what I mean.) However, we cannot judge the truth and goodness of Christ’s “team” by the actions of the players who are colluding against her (praying poorly, teaching poorly, living immorally, failing to receive the Sacraments well). They give a bad example, but can never sully her true nature.

Is This The End of the Church?

While we may have our Black Frocks, our game is not over. Our World Series is not lost–in fact, we have a sneak peak into the fact that we will eventually win the game (even if, for now, it may seem like we’re down 100 to 1 in the bottom of the 9th). Many have said “this is the end of the Catholic Church.” Jesus knew this was coming, and along with the above “sneak peak,” He gave us His promise when He made St. Peter the first pope:

And I tell you, you are Peter [“Rock”], and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

 

Mt 16:18

He knew the powers of death would attack the Church (including infiltrating her ranks). He knew many would be scandalized. He knew many would assume an end (not only now, but many times throughout history). But, more accurately than Babe Ruth calling his shot over the fence, Jesus has promised that those powers of death SHALL NOT PREVAIL!


Lord,

Thank you so much for Your Church and Your Sacraments. Keep me strong so that I may never again fail to receive Your medicine. May I always be on Your team–always fight on Your side of the battle. Please use me to draw as many people to You as possible. Please diminish the power of the scandals that I have caused. Thank you for helping me to see the error of my ways and seek forgiveness. Please continue to point out the path of holiness that I must walk; continually purify me more and more. Please heal those whom I have hurt. Please heal all who have been hurt by Church members. Please help all who have caused scandal to see their errors, seek Your forgiveness, and work for the salvation of as many souls as possible. We trust in the hope You have given us and we long for many to enjoy the fruit of that hope.

Amen.

Advertisements

God’s Side

St. John the Apostle once complained to Jesus:

“Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.”

Mk 9:38

Jesus responded by basically saying everyone who works in His name is on the same team:

“Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us…”

Mk 9:39-42

Here, we see a man who does not have the authority of the Apostles, but is still working in Jesus’ name. This made me think of some common questions:

Do we Catholics think we’re the only true Christians?

No, we recognize that all other religions who believe that Jesus is God (who became incarnate, died for us, rose from the dead, and is now in Heaven) are true Christians. In fact if you were to get baptized in one of those religions and then converted to Catholicism, you wouldn’t get re-baptized because we recognize the validity of Baptism in all truly Christian communities. All Christians are working toward the same goal: drawing closer to Jesus and drawing as many people to Him as possible.

In St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the retreatants are asked to picture a great battle between Jesus and Satan and to reflect on whether each of their actions have them battling under Jesus’ banner or Satan’s. Whether they are within the fullness of the Mystical Body of Christ or not, those who work in Jesus’ name are operating under His banner.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes:

…many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church…

CCC 819

Does that mean there is no difference between Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians?

No. While, we’re on the same team, only Catholics have the fullness of the truth (all of the teachings), apostolic authority (bishops who are successors to the apostles with the bishop of Rome [Pope] as their head), and all of the Sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Communion, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick).

If elements of sanctification and truth are found outside of the Catholic Church, does that mean the Catholic Church doesn’t have ALL the elements of sanctification and truth?

Any elements of sanctification and truth found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church are also found within her. The Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth and sanctification (not just part of it)–that’s one of the definitions of Catholic (see CCC 830). We definitely recognize the good being done in other Christian religions, but we know that same type of work can be done in the Catholic Church. I recognize in the work of non-Catholics like Randy Clark a great charism of healing, given to him by God, but I also see it in Catholics like Fr. Matthias Thelen.

So, what about non-Christians? Do we believe they are totally wrong or is there anything good in those religions?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that, in fact, all religions (not just Christians) have pieces of the truth (some more than others):

The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life. (CCC 843, emphasis mine)

So, in all of these religions, there are pieces of truth that are actually preparing those people to receive the fullness of truth that God has to offer in the Catholic Church.

See more here (1:06:00 – 1:12:25 in the video in tandem with the first handout).