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The 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 28, 2018


Vacations are always welcome. My recent one was especially so because it gave me an opportunity to get some distance on the scandals that have taken such a toll on the Church in recent times. Of course, with CNN, the 24-hour news cycle, and the ever present Internet, it wasn’t all that easy to escape. Let’s just say I did my best.

     It’s interesting, though, how something as familiar and timeworn as a Gospel story can bring it all back. Take today’s story of the blind Bartimaeus. I’ve preached on that story many times over the years but this time, in Bartimaeus’ persistent outcry and in his agonized plea to be able to see, I heard not just his voice but the voice of the Church. And when I say the voice of the Church, I mean your voice, my voice, the voice of so many who may feel they have no voice but who are nonetheless finding their voices - finding our voices. From the midst of confusion, anger, sadness, and betrayal, we find ourselves crying out with Bartimaeus, “I want to see!”

     We want to see. We do! We want to see beneath and behind all that has happened: the unspeakable behavior, the shameful abuses of power, the hidden face-saving accommodations. We want to see the awful darkness pierced once and for all. We also want to see justice and healing for those who have suffered in silence, or whose cries went unheeded for so long. We want, like Bartimaeus, to live in the darkness no longer. We want to see!

     In the Gospel story, Bartimaeus would not be silenced. The more that people told him to be quiet, the more he cried out. It’s the same with us, although Bartimaeus’ persistence got him a hearing and a healing whereas many of us feel that our cries for openness and transparency have largely gone unheeded.

     But, at the risk of sounding defensive, the insistent cries of the outraged People of God have not fallen on deaf ears. Yes, there are some in Church leadership who still don’t seem to get it, but more and more do, and people in the pews like you can take a good deal of the credit for that. Without your sustained outcry over the past couple of decades, your expressions of disgust, your letters, your demonstrations, and your prayers, we would not have made the progress we have.

     And, despite what we read and hear in some of the media, there has been progress. More and more bishops are being held to account; more and more are finally putting victims first; mandatory safe-environment programs have been introduced into all our parishes and schools; and clear reporting structures involving not just Church but civil authorities have been established and mandated. Not every institution in our society, private or public, can make similar claims, nor, sadly, does every family enjoy such safeguards.

     My friends, honesty demands that we acknowledge such things - not so that we can claim the moral high ground - God knows we should have occupied that ground long ago, and didn’t! No, this is not about the moral high ground, it’s about providing a context, introducing some nuance into our thinking, and making the sorts of distinctions that too often do not get made.

     But even though we can say with some confidence that progress has been made, we still have a long way to go. For one thing, we have yet to explore the causes underlying the abuse and its cover-up. What is it in the culture of the Church, for instance, that has allowed such atrocities not only to take place but even to flourish? Until our leaders are willing to explore that question and others like it, we will be far from coming out of the darkness into the light. Which is another way of saying that it’s not enough to deal only with the sins: we must also deal with the sinful structures that allowed such sins and crimes to be committed in the first place.

     But, my friends, as we look for the causes of this crisis, we will do well to avoid extremism and scapegoating. They are the enemy of truth. There are, for instance, media outlets and organizations - whole networks, even - that claim to be Catholic but are so narrowly ideological and mean-spirited as to be anything but Catholic. They’re bent on polarizing the Church and on stirring up trouble, and they’re very good at that. Some of them have all but openly declared war on Pope Francis! They may appear to accept his authority but they are none-too-subtly hostile towards him and everything he stands for.
And I’m not talking here about criticism of the Pope. Criticism can be helpful and it certainly has its place, and I think Pope Francis welcomes it. What I’m talking about are self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy putting themselves in the anomalous position of questioning the Pope’s orthodoxy. This is the kind of extremism I’m referring to, and extremism whether from the right or the left does the Church no favors.

     Take the former Papal Nuncio to this country who, in a recent “open letter,” made a series of completely unsubstantiated allegations against Pope Francis, calling on him to resign. I’m sure most of you were as shocked by that as I was. At the time, I questioned whether Pope Francis was right in saying little or nothing in response but now, with the passage of time, I believe he chose the right path. The truth will come out, but not from people with an axe to grind, whose agenda is narrowly self-serving, and whose point of view is anything but disinterested or objective.

      And, then, my friends, to all of this I would add one more thing: we need to resist the temptation to walk away from the Church. Some have, I know. Perhaps many. I pass no judgment on them but it’s well to remember that the Church is not just an organization that we decide to join - or not - and then pay our dues - or not. No, the Church is a living organism. It’s the Body of Christ. And this means that the Church is not something ‘out there’ — the Church is right here. The Church is all of us. The Church is Christ into whose Body we have been baptized and confirmed, Christ whose gift of the Eucharist is the source of our deepest life. How could we walk away?

      Some words from one a favorite spiritual writer - an Italian lay apostle by the name of Carlo Carretto, may help drive home the point. Carretto loved the church so passionately that he could call out its faults in a most striking way. These are his words:

How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms. No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you…. And besides, where would I go?

     My friends, that question is one that most, if not all, of us have already answered. We wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t. But I suspect that answering it once is not going to be enough. There are still likely to be rough waters ahead. Nonetheless my faith assures me that the holy yet sinful Church — so slow at times to wake up — is still Christ’s Church, and no matter how many times we fail him, he will never fail us!

Father Michael G. Ryan




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