Sunday, August 19, 2018

Latest Scandals: How Could This Happen?

The following is the homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, which I gave this weekend. 

Bishop Robert Gruss has asked the priests and of his diocese (Rapid City, S.D.) to share with you a letter that he wrote to us in response to the latest round of scandals involving Cardinal McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report which was released this week. 

In his letter he quotes Cardinal DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said that the abuse and the ignoring or hiding of it "have caused great harm to people's lives."  Then Bishop Gruss agreed with the proposal of the Bishop of Albany, N.Y. that an independent panel of lay people should be created as "an important step forward in making lasting reforms in the Church in regard to the investigation of Bishops." 

He concluded his letter: "In the meantime, members of the Body of Christ are suffering.  The Church is suffering.  Let us all turn to prayer and sacrifice and ask the Lord Jesus, who gave his life for his Church, to lead her to holiness, true healing and conversion."

I'm sure the question on everyone's minds these days is "How?  How could priests and bishops do such things?"

In 2012, in a video message to the Eucharistic Congress that was held in Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI asked a similar question.  He asked: "How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord's Body ... have offended in this way?  It remains a mystery." 

Yes, it is the "mystery" of evil and sin.  But I think our readings today can be used to reflect a bit more on this "mystery" of evil.

Our first two readings (Proverbs 9: 1-6 and Ephesians 5: 15-20) speak of wisdom and foolishness.  What is "wisdom?"  It's not mere knowledge.  Not facts and data.  Computers can store vast amounts of data and facts--knowledge--but they do not have wisdom.  Wisdom is more than technology.  I'm reminded of something that the Archbishop of Philadelphia, who was once Bishop of Rapid City, wrote: "Fools with tools are still fools." 

Wisdom is something deeper that knowing a lot of information.  It is a deeper knowledge.  To have wisdom is to know the ultimate reason or purpose of a thing.  It is to know the ultimate reason or purpose of life and to choose accordingly. 

Our purpose or end in life is to know, love, and serve God.  It is, as Jesus said in response to a question about the greatest commandment, to love God and love our neighbor.  The choices we make in fulfilling this purpose of life lead us ultimately to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

St. Ignatius of Loyola helps us understand wisdom in the "First Principle and Foundation" of his "Spiritual Exercises."  It means holding on to whatever helps us fulfill our purpose and attain the goal for which God created us.  And it means rejecting whatever hinders us from fulfilling our purpose and attaining our goal. 

Those who committed the sins and crimes that we are hearing about these days, or who ignored or covered them up, were fools.  And by that I mean not simply stupid people who made mistakes.  They were fools in a deeper sense.  They did not keep both their own and the victims ultimate end in mind. They were fools who did not consider the brevity of earthly life and the eternity that follows it. 

Pope Benedict XVI, after asking how the scandalous and sinful crimes could have occurred and answering that it was a "mystery," went on to say: "Evidently their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: it had become merely a matter of habit." 

In other words, they did not think of the sacrilege of celebrating Mass after what they had done, nor did they allow the transforming power of the Eucharist to change them.  They were simply going through the motions of celebrating Mass with little or no attention to what they were doing.

I think there are two important implications and challenges for us.

First, be wise!  This life will one day end.  Choose well.  Choose what leads to heaven and not what leads to that state of eternal alienation from God that we call hell. 

Second, pray the Mass.  Don't let your celebration of Mass "become merely a matter of habit."  It's not enough to simply be physically present at Mass, just as it's not enough for a lamp cord and plug to be physically in the presence of the outlet.  In order for the power to reach the bulb and light it up, the cord needs to be plugged in.  Just so, we need to "plug into" the transforming power of the Eucharist.  We need to allow the power that transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ to transform us. 

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