Bishop Taylor has no homily this weekend because he is on vacation, so he has asked Arkansas Catholic to publish this timely homily (which was given just prior to the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report) from Deacon Matt Glover. Bishop Taylor shares the sentiments expressed by Glover and appreciates that his message, though challenging, is rooted firmly in the Good News of Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit who guides us and can bring healing to this bitter wound that we all suffer, but most especially those who are the direct victims of the sexual abuse of minors by priests or other representatives of the Church.
“Truth is in Jesus,” St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading from Ephesians. He goes on: “You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Strong words, but something to which all of us are called as baptized Christians. Unfortunately, many Catholics instinctively associate this call to radical conversion solely with those who become priests, or monks or nuns. Not only is that interpretation incorrect, anyone who’s followed the national news lately can tell you it’s also not necessarily accurate.
Some of you may know that, in my former life, I was a seminarian for our diocese for several years. I was studying in Rome in the early 2000s when the initial scandal from the Archdiocese of Boston first hit. To say that scandal devastated our morale would be an understatement, though it was nothing compared to those who had suffered more directly.
Well, the Church in the United States has once again been scandalized by allegations of misconduct of one of its highest-ranking officials. The allegations — which are multiple, credible and substantiated — are so serious that they require serious questions: How could such a respected cardinal have done such despicable things? Why do some Church leaders find it so hard to accept and follow the Church’s own teachings on chastity, celibacy and marriage? And, perhaps most practically, who else in Church leadership knew what, and when did they know it?
Some of you may also know that in addition to being a deacon, I have the privilege of serving as chancellor and in-house counsel for our diocese. As a civil lawyer and a canon lawyer, I advise our bishop, diocesan departments and pastors and parishes on a whole gamut of issues. I also field phone calls and emails on all manner of complaints. And when those complaints are of the more serious kind, I’m usually called upon to investigate, mediate or get to the bottom of whatever the issue is. I don’t say this to toot my own horn, but to let you know that I’ve heard it all.
And even though this most recent national scandal didn’t emanate from our diocese, I’ve fielded numerous questions and complaints about it. I can take the yelling and the name-calling and the threatening — most people, after all, just want to know that someone at the diocese, someone in Church leadership, is hearing them out. But the most painful questions, the most difficult ones for me to answer, are the ones like: “Why should I even remain Catholic after all this?” Or, “Why do you still work for a Church that can’t seem to get its own house in order?” Or, “How am I supposed to explain to others why I’m still Catholic?”
Those questions are difficult for me not because I haven’t heard them before or given serious thought and prayer to a good answer. They’re difficult because, in times like these, I can’t help but be tempted by them myself. So I want to share with you how I tend to answer such questions, whether they’re coming from concerned Catholics throughout our diocese, or from my own internal struggles. The answer tends to go something like this, in three parts: (1) Thank your priests (and bishop). (2) Trust in Jesus. And (3), Do your job.
• So, first: thank your priests (and bishop). That doesn’t mean you put them on a pedestal, telling them how amazing every single sermon is or how holy and awe-inspiring they are. Sometimes, the best way to thank a priest is just to treat him like a fellow human being — subject to criticism, yes — but also deserving of basic respect and dignity. In my job, I get all sorts of complaints about priests — from “I don’t like how Father doesn’t wear clerics on his off day,” to “Father doesn’t pause long enough at the elevation of the consecrated host,” to “Father doesn’t seem to like people’s pets and animals.” Don’t be that person. Priests have an almost impossible and usually thankless task — being in a spotlight and under a microscope at all times, today like never before. Ninety-nine percent of priests are just normal guys, doing the best that they can, to help shine some light in a fallen world. Yes, they need the occasional charitable correction, just like the rest of us. But they also need to hear, more than just occasionally, “thank you for your priesthood.”
• Second, I tell others: Trust in Jesus. Our faith is in Jesus Christ and rooted in his Church. Our faith is not in the personal holiness of individual priests, bishops or cardinals. It’s not in having adequate processes and procedures. It’s not in a system of justice that punishes evildoers. Our faith is in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and his promise to Peter — a man who denied that he even knew Jesus, not once, but three times — that he would build his Church on that rock and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I’m Catholic not because our leaders are always perfect, but because I know I’m not. I’m Catholic not because our ministers are holier, or the music is lovelier, or the churches are prettier, or the potlucks are tastier. Ultimately, I’m Catholic because I am convicted that it is true.
• Third, and finally, I tell others (and myself): Do your job. It would be easy in face of scandal to tuck tail and run the other way. To say to yourself, “I don’t want to be associated with this kind of organization anymore.” Or, “I can’t even believe what I’m being told by Church leaders anymore.” Whatever the sentiment is, believe me, I’ve heard it. But what we need, what our children and young people need, is not more cynicism and doubt-mongering — we get enough of that from the secular world. We need a new wave of Catholic lay faithful who are willing to stand up for their Catholic faith. Who are willing to become scholars and theologians and apologists and catechists and teachers and youth leaders. Not because our priests say so or our bishops say so or some cardinal says so. But because Jesus Christ says so.
The days are gone here in America for leaving the holiness just to priests. The days are gone for depending solely on Church structures to pass our Catholic faith down to our kids. The days are gone for the Catholic faithful to just assume that the Church will inevitably recover credibility and respect, or that it will always be a fixture for the next generation.
The time has come, my brothers and sisters, to take ownership over our Catholic faith and identity. The time has come, for Catholic laity to be witnesses to our families, our friends, our coworkers, of the truths of our Catholic faith. The time has come for Catholic laity to beam with pride about their Catholic faith when confronted with difficult questions — not because we Catholics get everything right or do everything perfectly, but because we Catholics have been gifted an immense treasure, a pearl of great price: the fullness of the truth. And truth, as St. Paul tells us, is in Jesus.
Thank your priests. Trust in Jesus. Do your job. And know that the Holy Spirit, who has preserved the Church these past two millennia despite our own best efforts to destroy it, the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.
Deacon Matt Glover delivered this homily Aug. 5.
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