Why I’m Staying Put

Unless you have been stranded on a deserted island, you know that the news coming out of Chile, Honduras and now the United States, reveals that another chapter of scandal and cover up has emerged in the Roman Catholic Church. Is this a repeat of 2002 when the epicenter of abuse was the archdiocese of Boston? And wasn’t that supposed to be behind us once the United States Catholic Council of Bishops (USCCB) introduced the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People?

Well, it’s back! And if you have read this blog over the past two weeks you know that I have written a good deal about how I am processing this. So my purpose here is not to rehash the details or to try to give a reason why it happened and what we need to do. Rather I want to answer the question that I have been asked, “What do you stay put?”

I entered the Church with my wife Charlotte at Easter 2016. I am no more than a toddler when it comes to being Catholic, even though I have a long history as a Christian. In these two plus years I have been blessed with wonderful priests, with the Sacraments, and with the two-millennia history of the Church that Jesus founded upon the Apostles.

I am frustrated. I am angry. I find myself with knots in my stomach. I pray. I cry. I have written my bishop. I go to daily Mass. And I receive Jesus–Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity every day in the Eucharist. Every day the priest raises the host, the bread, now the Body of Christ, and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” And together with the priest and the people I say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

And then I receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I can’t ever give this up! That’s why I’m staying put.


Equal Opportunity Seducer

One thing this summer has proven to me is that Satan is an equal-opportunity seducer to sin. A high profile, high-ranking churchman among U.S. Catholics has fallen in disgrace when his sexual peccadilloes were revealed, but not before much harm was done to the Church and her members. And then a very prominent evangelical pastor retired earlier this year and is now under scrutiny for things he allegedly did over the course of his long tenure as pastor of one of the best known churches in America.

We shake our heads in bewilderment, but deep down inside we understand the fragility of the sons of Adam’s race and the propensity to sin, especially if power and influence is attached to one’s station in the church and outside of it. Our merciful Lord took a very strong position on this matter: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NRSV).

We make a grave error if we restrict our Lord’s admonition only to “little children” referring to their biological age. Anyone entrusted with spiritual oversight who abuses their position of leadership, authority and shepherding to do harm to another, physically, emotionally, sexually or theologically, Jesus has very harsh words and judgment for that person.

I shudder with the implications. I am currently a layman in the Catholic Church, but I spent 30-plus years as a pastor and missionary in the evangelical church. The opportunities for taking advantage of another in any of the ways listed above are always on Satan’s menu. What can we do to bring accountability and holiness to the church?

I am currently reading The Church: Mystery, Sacrament, Community, part four of Pope St. John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences on the Catechism. In his first presentation I came across these words:

“…we also profess that the Church of Christ is apostolic, that is, built upon the apostles, from whom she received the divine truth revealed by and in Christ. The Church is apostolic because she preserves the apostolic tradition and guards it as her sacred deposit.

“The authoritative guardians appointed to preserve this deposit are the successors of the apostles, assisted by the Holy Spirit. But without a doubt, all believers, in union with their legitimate pastors, and thus, the whole Church, share in the Church’s apostolicity. That is, they share in her bond with the apostles and, through them, with Christ. For this reason the Church cannot be merely reduced to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The latter is, without a doubt, its institutional foundation. But all the members of the Church–pastors and faithful–belong to her and are called to play an active role in the one People of God, who receive from him the gift of being bound to the apostles and to Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis mine)

You and I have a responsibility to assure that the Church is presented to Christ “without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind.” We are called to pray, to fast, to be faithful in our own lives, and to pray especially for our pastors and bishops and not turn a blind eye in those occasions that the leadership of the Church and the people in the pews are indistinguishable from the corrupt world in which we find ourselves.

Jesus takes this very seriously and so should we!

“Lord, to whom can we go?”

As I mentioned yesterday I came into the Catholic Church about 27 months ago. It has been quite the ride, and as I will describe in a later post, a definite sense of “coming home.” Yet, I did not come into the Church blindly or imagining that all was perfect on this side of the “Tiber” (a reference to the river in Rome that Protestants symbolically cross over to enter the Catholic Church).

Over the past several months there has been an increase in reports of sexual sins in the Church, especially attributed to prelates (ecclesiastics of a high order) and that have been allegedly covered up by them. As these reports come out it reminds me, first of all, that we are all sinners, even those who have risen in the ranks of the Church. But also, that God’s word is true: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7-8 NRSVCE).

The Church, the Bride of Christ, is called to “be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27) and when that is not the case–from the person in the pew to the college of cardinals–when there is no discernible difference between the dominant culture and the conduct of those who claim to follow Christ–we can only expect St. Peter’s admonition to be applied, “For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1 Peter 4:17 NRSVCE).

A few years ago, a good friend of mine went from having a green card to becoming a citizen of the United States. I congratulated him and then I said, “Now, you are part of the problem!” As I said earlier, I did not come into Catholic Church blindly, I knew there have always been challenges and need for reform, and thank God, the Holy Spirit has raised up men and women throughout the centuries to bring reform to the Church that Christ founded upon the Apostles: Benedict, Peter Damian, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, among others.

We are all called to respond to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit to live in such a way that we humbly sow to the Spirit so that we may reap eternal life from the Holy Spirit. Our time, our Church, our culture is looking to us. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13 NRSVCE).

In those moments of angst I’m reminded on this Sunday as we read the “Bread of Life” discourse, today and over the next few Sundays, that Jesus gave himself for the Church, he offers us life and we have the privilege of partaking of his Body and Blood in every Mass. Like Peter I say: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 NRSVCE).