Homily: Scandal

Fr. Allen's homily on Sunday, 19 August, concerning the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church:


I want to speak to you this morning about the latest abuse scandals in the church, emanating especially from the release last week of the grand jury report in Pennsylvania, but also from the revelations about Cardinal - now former Cardinal - Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C. I know it’s not pleasant to hear these things, and one aspect of the harm done, though certainly not the worst, is that rather than pondering the words of our Lord - Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you - we are talking about these sordid, vile, and criminal betrayals instead. But we must.

And the first thing I want to say is, I am sorry. I am sorry for what has happened at the hands of my fellow priests. I have begun doing penance for reparation of these sins, and my private Masses, for at least the rest of this year, are offered for the victims of priestly abuse.

As to these latest revelations, you should understand that, in the main, the Pennsylvania grand jury report confirmed what we already knew, both good and bad. First the good, and this really is important. The Catholic Church in the United States, our parishes and our schools, today are very safe places for children. Since the rounds of scandals that began to emerge in the 1990’s and especially the Boston-area scandals of 2002, incidents of abuse are very low, particularly as compared to other institutions both religious and secular, and when they do occur and are reported, they are handled immediately and properly - that is, transparently and with the immediate and appropriate involvement of the civil authorities. Here at Corpus Christi and St Mary’s we very carefully and intentionally adhere to all the safe environment protocols put in to place since the Dallas Charter was adopted in 2002. Your children are safe here, and I say that as one who is a father of young children. They are safe at our local Catholic Schools. That doesn’t mean that continued and careful vigilance isn’t needed; it is. And you must hold your priests and principals and teachers and other leader’s feet to the fire.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report covers abuse reported to diocesan chanceries going back 70 years. The overwhelming majority of that abuse occurred in ‘60s and ‘70s by priests born in the ‘30s and ‘40s. This is just what we learned in 2002. What is new in the Pennsylvania report, and what has, very appropriately, I think, aroused so much anger, is that it gives a deeper, more clear, more horrifically detailed picture of the nature of the abuse that occurred, and also of, in some cases, the utterly inept, and in many other cases actually malfeasant, covering-up, protect-themselves-and-their-institutions-first response of the bishops in question, some of whom are still active. And making things worse is that as these revelations came out, so many bishops and cardinals came out mumbling PR firm-provided talking points about the need for new policies and procedures rather than lamenting their own sin and promising penance, amendment of life, and reparation. Some of them failed in their duty to protect the sheep, but have avoided accountability under a subterfuge of management-speak and corporate expressions of sorrow rather than taking personal responsibility. I don’t think they will be able to escape that responsibility any longer, but we will see.

A couple more observations:

  • This is not a uniquely Catholic problem. Again, other religious and secular institutions are having the exact same issues. That itself is not an excuse and shouldn’t make us feel better; we ought to be better. We are the Catholic Church, the Church founded by Jesus Christ, and the Church ought to be a beacon of light, sanity, charity, and rightly-ordered life in the midst of our confused and darkened culture.

  • This horror is not a product of priestly celibacy. Our celibate priests are less likely to be abusers than the population at large, or, for that matter, the married clergy of other denominations. We know that the great majority of abuse is perpetrated by adults against their own children. And it strikes me as passing strange - I say this as a Catholic priest who actually is married and has children - to suggest that what would help these predators is to have a wife and children.

  • Having said that, there is something no one has wanted to talk about but which has been dragged into the light by the McCarrick scandal, which has to do with abuse and harassment of seminarians and young priests. There is a crisis of chastity within the priesthood, which is related to the abuse scandals (which are overwhelmingly same-sex in nature) and that crisis is related to the sexuality of some of our priests. It’s difficult to talk about in this setting, both plainly and with the nuance required, and to take grateful of account of the great majority of priests who live good and holy lives in the face of all sorts of challenges and temptations, but it will have to be dealt with.

Now, where do we go from here. I’ll offer just two thoughts, one on the institutional level and one on the more personal, spiritual level.

First of all, on the institutional level, there should be a forensic audit of every diocese related to abuse claims with the results made public. Every diocese will need to have its Pennsylvania moment. We will find, no doubt, many more examples of bishops and their chancery staffs having failed to properly handle abuse claims and having facilitated abusers by moving them around from parish to parish. We will find that some beloved bishops, bishops who have otherwise done good and beautiful service to the church have badly failed in this regard. But it all needs to come out, every last sordid bit of it. Truth, reconciliation, healing - these things are inextricably linked. We cannot heal without truth. Our bishops have now asked for an Apostolic Visitation - that means a Vatican investigation. Good. But let me say, as many have said, that for that investigation to have any credibility it must have significant, competent, and independent lay leadership. I think that’s what we’re going to get, but if not, we must be prepared to demand it by whatever licit tools of protest are at our disposal.

And second, and on the more personal and spiritual level, there is a place for anger. Not the deadly sin of anger, the anger that burns out of control and destroys and generates hate and resentment, but the anger of our Lord before the money changers in the Temple, the anger of our Lord as he stood before the grave of Lazarus, the anger of the psalms that long for justice and wholeness and will not be satisfied with less, the anger that serves charity.

But what is that place? How can anger be channelled to charity? I read an interview yesterday with Leah Libresco, a young writer and convert several years ago from atheism. She was asked how she remains joyfully Catholic in the midst of these scandals. She notes that she knew enough biblical and church history before her conversion to be aware of the reality of sin and hypocrisy within the Church. But then she said,

But I think one thing to hold onto is that when we recognize these abuses as horrific, the strength of our response also invites us to recognize the holiness of what has been profaned. A priest’s abuse of seminarians carries an additional evil, in addition to the grave evil of sexual abuse and the profanation of authority (that would also apply when any boss or supervisor used his power to entrap his [employees]). The priest also sins as a husband to the Church, dishonoring his vows of chastity. He sins as a father, who wounds his children when he was ordained specifically to heal them through the Eucharist and in the confessional. Hold on to your horror, and remember you are angry because holy things are profaned (the child of God treated as a plaything, the sacraments, etc.). Then run to adore those holy things, as well as to admonish those who profaned them.

And that is what I invite you to do now, this morning. Remember why you are angry - holy things, the gifts and sacramental mysteries of God grace, and God’s own beloved children, have been profaned. Hold on to that horror, but then let us adore those holy things even as we demand change so that these things never happen again.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

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A Homily Thread on the Transfiguration

August 6 is the Transfiguration of the Lord


Collect of the Day  O God, who on the holy mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine Only Begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty; who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. ℟ Amen.

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration!

So what is it about the Transfiguration that should be so encouraging, so enlightening? Well, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty, Peter says. His majesty. Peter knew and had followed Jesus, the mostly homeless and itinerant rabbi.

And for all the power of his teaching, and even the miracles he had witnessed, Jesus is still, far as Peter can see, subject to all the usual and unjust earthly powers and authorities.

After all, just a week prior to this, Jesus had announced his intention to go to Jerusalem, where Peter and the other Apostles are sure he, and probably they as well, will be killed. “Let us go with him that we may also die with him,” Thomas says.

And Peter himself tries to prevent Jesus from going, only to have Jesus say, “get behind me Satan.” Peter is worried. Jesus is taking them to a dark and dangerous place.

But before Jerusalem, before Mt Calvary, Jesus takes Peter and these other “chosen witnesses” up Mt Tabor, and there the veil of dust and care and time and frail, oriented-to-death human flesh is pulled back for just a few minutes, and the Apostles see, and we by faith see with them, the Incarnate Son of God in his eternal glory. That is, we see his glorified humanity - which is our own humanity, in perfect and complete union with his divinity.

In other words, in the Transfiguration, the Apostles received a glimpse, a foretaste, of Christ’s victory, and they see their own potential, the potential of every single human being who is united to Christ by faith and baptism.

As St Irenaeus said all the way back in the second century, in Christ “God became what we are in order to make us what he is himself." In Christ, our own humanity, purified by grace from every spot and stain of sin, may have a share in divinity, in the eternal life and light of the Most Blessed Trinity.

And with that hope, and keeping our eyes on that prize, we may have courage to face up to what our collect, with affecting understatement, calls, “the disquietude of this world.”

A Prophet is Not Without Honour, Except in His Own Country: a Homily Thread

Fr. Allen tweeted a portion of this morning's homily, for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B), the Gospel reading for which is Mark 6.1-6. 

Jesus came to his own country; and his disciples followed him.  And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this?  What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.  And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”  And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief.  And he went about among the villages teaching.

Homily thread (Trinity 6; OT 14b):

We have to acknowledge that the people of Nazareth were right; or, their expectations wrong but - kind of - justified.

After all, Jesus was fully human. He was a man like other men. He really was the carpenter from Nazareth, whose mother and half-brothers and sisters and cousins they all knew. St. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians said, “Make it your ambition to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands,” and it seems that is exactly how our Lord lived in Nazareth, before he went down to present himself to John for baptism in the river Jordan.

In other words, he was normal, not that impressive; indeed, in some sense even unimpressive. As the prophet Isaiah had said, “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

That is how he came, and that is how he comes among us still. St. Augustine said, “I am afraid of Jesus passing,” because he might pass without my realizing it, without my being ready to receive him. He comes to us still in ways that are familiar, normal, even unimpressive.

A carpenter, who constructed the world. A poor Nazarene, but King of the Universe. A crust of bread, but his sacred Body. A sip of wine, but his precious Blood.

And the poor who, as he Jesus said, “are always with us,” and in whom he presents himself, wounded and in need, for our love and adoration. We have a great addiction to “new and improved” - in our technology, in our vehicles, in our toys, sometimes in theology and liturgy.

We want to be impressed. But our Lord comes to us along old and familiar pathways: the Bible; Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be; the 10 Commandments; Confession and penance; as we visit the sick and help our neighbor in need.

But, you know, that itself is an expression of his love for us, his respect for our freedom. He does not trick us, does not manipulate our feelings and energy with novelty, but invites our love.

In a sense, he is still among us leading a quiet life and working with his hands, and does not want us so much to be dazzled by him, as to know him, to seek friendship with him.

And friendship grows from companionship, from shared work, from conversation, from the patterns of relationship that are, in a sense, old and familiar, but - in a living relationship animated by love, are always new.

And this morning, on this Altar, across this rail, Jesus returns to his own country, to you and me, clothed in the humble and familiar robes of bread and wine, and presents himself to us - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Let us learn the lesson of the people of Nazareth, and give him honor, and receive him when comes.

[Leaned on this homily by Fr Cantalamessa: https://zenit.org/articles/father-cantalamessa-on-a-prophet-without-honor/ ]

 

A Homily Thread for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Homily tweeting for the Feast of the Nativity of St John Baptist:

The Nativity of St John Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, who prepares the way for Christ, who is in himself the hinge between the Old Testament and the New, culminating the ministries of the prophets by introducing to the world the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, feast of any saint in the Church’s calendar.  

But why today, June 24th? Well, for starters, we may work out the date by the information St Luke gives to us in his Gospel. Remember that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to invite her to become the Mother of God’s Only-Begotten, after Mary had given her assent, her fiat, Gabriel told her also of John’s coming birth: “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” 

“It is the sixth month with her.” So John, we may infer, was born six months before Jesus. And the Church kept the feast of the Annunciation on March the 25th, and so of course also kept the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, Christmas, nine months later, on December 25th. 

And if Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John when our Lord was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then that would put the birth of John in late June, and so the Church already in the 5th century was keeping this great feast of John’s Nativity on June 24th. 

But again, the ancients were much closer to nature and her cycles than are we, and so they saw another significance in these dates. The Lord’s Nativity is, they knew, celebrated on - or about, close to - the Winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, after which the days slowly get longer; the light increases. And John’s nativity is celebrated on - or about, close to - the Summer solstice, technically this past Thursday, the longest day and shortest night of the year after which, after today, the days slowly grow shorter and the nights longer; the darkness increases and will do so all the way until, well, Christmastime, when the light will grow. 

So we keep John’s feast today because of the Biblical timeline, but liturgically, these feasts have a kind of cosmic significance. 

The change in the seasons, the growing darkness followed by the growing light, proclaim the Baptist’s own words to his disciples as he directed them to Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” 

Again, we don’t live so close to nature any more. Solstice and equinox pass without notice. We live in an electrified world; if it’s dark, we flip a switch and - hey, presto - it’s light again. 

But our forefathers and mothers in the faith were very much aware that each day, beginning today, would have a little less light and a little more darkness. 

For them, keeping St John the Baptist’s feast on this day, at the Summer solstice, was itself the beginning of an eloquent, year-long sermon. 

It was John the Baptist again preaching to us from the heavens, directing our attention, directing or hope, to the coming of Christ, the light of Christ coming in to the darkness of this world, and overcoming it. 

“He must increase, and I must decrease,” John is saying to us still, and so setting out the program for every Christian life, every year, every day.

By the example and at the intercession of St John the Baptist, and beginning this very day, may the light of Christ increase in each one of us, overcoming the darkness of pride and selfishness in our own hearts, so that we, like John, may become beacons of God love and mercy.

A Homily Thread on the Parable of the Mustard Seed

 Parable of the Mustard Seed etching by Jan Luyken 

Parable of the Mustard Seed etching by Jan Luyken 

Homily thread [on the Parable of the Mustard Seed for the Third Sunday after Trinity]:

It is easy to lose patience, to become frustrated with injustice in the world, frustrated with sin and corruption and ineffectual leadership in the Church, frustrated with the slow-to-the-point-of backing up growth of holiness in our own lives.

It's really easy to be impatient with the impatience of others. We want it all to happen now. But listen to our Lord's parables of the Kingdom. God is doing the building, not us.

Even in the natural world, he takes the tiny, insignificant mustard seed and he turns it into a plant that becomes a home for birds. Our Lord dies, his battered body is planted in the grave, and his body, and with it our frail humanity, is raised to new and eternal life.

And he takes twelve insignificant, often fearful, often doubting men in an insignificant backwater outpost of the Roman empire and builds a Church that fills the whole world, and so many of us have found rest in its shade.

So, patience. We must never look at the world, or at the Church, or at our neighbor, or in the mirror, and lose hope. And no cup of water given in Jesus' Name, no word of encouragement spoken, no act of love, no matter how small, is given in vain.

These are seeds scattered in the Lord's garden, and he will give the increase. He who began this good work, this Kingdom of righteousness, will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.

And God, as he always has, will use the most unlikely-seeming, the most insignificant-appearing, means to do it: a splash of water, hands laid upon a head and smudge of oil, a bit of bread and a sip of wine; a kind word; a sign held on a sidewalk; a whispered prayer.

He will use even you and me. /Amen.

Candlemas!

CANDLEMAS / 2 : II : 2013 / Lk 2.22-40

Fr Patrick Allen

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On my parents' bookshelves when I was growing up was an old book of cartoons collected from Punch, the English magazine of humor and satire. There's one I remember very well. It was from the 1920's: a drawing of young Lord Somebody-or-other who had gone up to Oxford for college, and had had his two-seater car painted red down one side and blue down the other in order to "confuse witnesses," the caption said, "in the event of an accident."

Today's feast, which this year happens to fall on a Sunday, always reminds me of that cartoon - this feast which travels under three different names as if to confuse worshipers in the event of a liturgy.  In the old calendar it was called, and many still think of it as, the feast of “the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  In the current calendar it is called the feast of “the Presentation of the Lord.”  And since very early days and still it is most commonly called “Candlemas.”

I know this will be review, but since the feast does fall on Sunday this year, maybe we ought to think about it, consider its meaning, under those three titles.

So, “The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  Mosaic law as it is stated in the book of Leviticus stipulated that a woman was ritually - not morally, but ritually, ceremonially - unclean for seven days after giving birth to a child.  If the child were male, he would be circumcised on the eighth day (and that happens in the verse immediately preceding the point at which our Gospel lesson began), and then she was required to remain at home for a further thirty-three days for the purification of her blood.  I realize you may be curious about the religious or even medical significance of this period of “uncleanness” and purification of blood, but I would just point out that the practical effect for the woman in question is that she is exempted from all her normal religious, social, and economic duties  - it amounts to six weeks of enforced maternity leave.  Actually, 40 days to be precise, and today of course is the fortieth day after Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord.

After this, she is to present a purification sacrifice - a lamb and a turtle-dove or pigeon being the norm, though there was a provision, in the case of the very poor, for the offering only of two turtle-doves or pigeons, which is what the Holy Family did, for they were poor, and we cannot remind ourselves of that too often.

Mary of course is the Immaculate.  She is ever-Virgin - before, during, and after birth.  She has no need for purification of any kind.  This child she bears to the Temple has come for the purification of the whole world.  And yet humbly she submits to the law, to the will of the Father there expressed, and so ever the Lord’s handmaiden, she serves by her obedience the fulfillment of his promises of grace, and you and I are purified, made clean and new by the self-offering of Mary’s Son and Savior, our robes washed and made “white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rv 7.14).

So today is the Purification, but it’s also the Presentation.  We read that when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.  Again, the Mosaic Law stated - and Luke quotes it in our lesson - that the firstborn son is sacred to the Lord, consecrated to the Lord’s service.  However, the child could be “redeemed”, bought back, for five shekels, payable to any priest in the land.  St. Luke is vague about the details, but apparently rather than being redeemed and restored to his parents,  Mary and Joseph actually brought the child to Jerusalem and handed him over completely to God in the Temple.  The word we have translated here as “to present” is the normal word for “to offer” - the same word used to describe the offering of sacrifices in the Temple.

So, you see, in the Presentation, in the offering of the Lord, in the Temple, we see already the shadow of the cross falling across the infant Jesus.  This is why he has come after all, “the firstborn of all creation” as St. Paul describes him, to offer himself, to offer a perfect and pure life of love up to the Father on our behalf, as one of us, the right response to God’s act of love in creation.

Purification, Presentation, and now “Candlemas.”  When the Holy Family comes to the Temple, they are met by aged Simeon, righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  And also the octogenarian prophetess Anna, who did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  

Simeon makes his song - the Nunc dimittis - as he takes the child into his arms, whom he recognizes as the Lord’s salvation: a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.  This child is the coming of God’s light into the darkness of this world, and so from ancient times it has been the Church’s custom on this day to bless the candles to be used in the liturgy for the coming year - it’s the Candle Mass.  

“God is light and in him there is no darkness at all,” St. John proclaims in his first epistle, and Jesus, this child resting in Mary’s arms, is “the pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,” through our humanity.  Today is really the last day of Christmas, and so we behold again today this tiny child, crying for his Mother’s warm embrace, crying to be fed - this Son of Mary who is God the Son, God giving himself to us, God becoming small and vulnerable for us - in other words, God come to set the world to rights, not by the power of his might, but by the simple invitation to love.   In this Mass, on this Altar, he makes that invitation again, presenting himself offering himself to the Father, for our purification and salvation - a perfect gift of love.  That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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