Saturday, August 18, 2018

Rebuild My Church!


More than 800 years ago, the Catholic church was caught up in the midst of perhaps the greatest scandal it had ever seen, a scandal that revolved largely around the clergy of that time. But into the midst of that scandal, one man, St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the religious order that I belong to, received a miraculous message from Jesus speaking to him from a cross in a small chapel in the Italian countryside. From that cross, Jesus said, “Francis, rebuild my church which you can see is in ruins.” As we know, St. Francis responded to that command of the Lord and ushered in one of the greatest reforms the Church has ever seen, and one of the greatest ages of holiness in the long history of Christianity. St. Francis’ plan for reform was nothing more complicated than the simple belief that the Gospel can be lived; that the Gospel must be lived by all who profess it.

I have been thinking a lot about that story from the life of St. Francis, and that command of Jesus from the cross because as we know, this has been a rough week to be a Catholic in the United States. As the scandal of clergy abuse once again rears its ugly head – from the report out of Pennsylvania, to the story out of St. John’s Seminary in Boston, to the now-disgraced Cardinal McCarrick – this has been a week that challenges many of us as members of the Church. And it is particularly difficult because this is not the first time we have been here. Nearly 15 years ago this scourge first came to public attention and we were mortified that the very priests and bishops we hold in such high esteem could somehow be the perpetrators of such great crimes. We thought and we hoped and we prayed after that terrible moment that we had recognized our wrongs, purged our ranks, changed our ways, cared for those victimized, pledged to never let this happen again.

And yet, here we are – again. I speak today not only as a priest, not only as your pastor. I speak simply as a fellow Catholic in the pew next to you with you. I hear your and anger and I share your anger. And like you, I want to know, how do we move forward from this to be true to our call as a Church faithful to her Lord. Like you I have been on a roller coaster of emotions as these stories have played out in the media. We are angry and hurt. We are embarrassed that these stories are again in the headlines – and even more furious that after more than a decade of focus on the protection of children, the leadership of the church, despite the tremendous progress it has made, has still not yet handled this in a way that gives all of us the assurance that abuse will be rooted out no matter the cost.

These moments can be for those of us who remain faithful members of the Body of Christ disheartening and dispiriting. Among the most heartbreaking questions I have heard this week are the questions that ask, “Why should I even remain a Catholic?” There are two great tragedies that arise from this scandal. First and foremost are the innocent lives of young people that are damaged when those who are supposed to be models of faith and holiness violate their sacred trust. But, the second tragedy are those who lose their faith, lose their church because its leadership has proved unworthy of that trust.

In this moment, it is important that we do three things. First, we must support and pray for every victim of abuse. We must comfort them, help them in their pain, and seek out justice in their name. The second thing we need to do is to continue to make our voice heard to the leadership of the church – to our bishops, cardinals, and even the pope – that we as the people of God will not allow this scandal in any form, or to any degree, continue. We cannot rest until this scandal is truly in our past.

The third things we need to do is to remember why we are Catholic in the first place, and why it is so important that we remain. I don’t know about you, but I am not a Catholic because of any priest, bishop, or even pope. Let me offer a few reasons why, even in the midst of this scandal, we should not abandon our faith or our church.

The first reason is of course because of Jesus. In a profound way, that’s really the only answer. We are Catholic because of Jesus and we stay because of Jesus. We know what life is like without Him. Life without Jesus lacks meaningful purpose; it lacks true direction. We cannot imagine life without Jesus. And, yes, we can find Jesus outside of the church, but this is His church, the one He founded and the way He is present here is like no other place on earth. Jesus promised us that He would never abandon His church, he would never abandon us. God is so much bigger than this moment and ultimately it is our closeness to Jesus that will bring true healing.

When we experience Jesus True Presence in the Eucharist at Mass, or sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament, we get to experience God in a way that many people don’t. Not because of anything that we’ve done to deserve it, but because by God’s grace we know that it He is truly there in front of us. His presence is real. This is the same Jesus we encounter in the confessional who forgives our sins, every time treating us with tender mercy and compassion. It is this Jesus that welcomes the newborn in baptism, blesses couples who marry, who is by the side of the sick and dying as they breath their final breath. We stay because Jesus is present to us and good to us. Every single day, Jesus is good to us.

The second reason we are Catholic is because this is our home, our family. We were born into this family of faith and community of believers and our lives with Jesus are not solitary. It is a life that is lived with others, and it is through them – through you – that we encounter our Lord every day. We need each other. Just think of the ways that God invites us to be His presence through actions great and small. It is this home, this family, this community, that is the place we discover the presence of God in our lives, that we nurture that presence of God, and that we are invited to be the presence of God in our world.

Third, we remain Catholic because it is within this church that we find hope. Every day as our world tries to drag us into darkness, the church remains a beacon of light and hope that speaks words of life into the darkness of the world. It is here that the message is always that we are loved, that we are welcomed, that we are forgiven. It is here that the darkness comes to die as the light of Christ conquers all. Even the most hopeless situations become opportunities for goodness, holiness, and light. And it is that hope that tells us that even in the midst of scandal, love, justice, and mercy will prevail – that our church can and will heal.

We remain Catholic because we know in the depths of our hearts that even despite her failings, we can’t live without the Church. She is our home and our family; she is our beacon in the storm, and our light in the darkness. She is the place where we encounter God most profoundly and discover who we are in God’s sight. And as St. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” We need the Church and the Church needs each one of us.

A man came across three masons who were chipping granite from large blocks. He asked the first what he was doing. He responded, “I’m just hammering this stupid rock.” He approached the second with the same question. He said, “Well, I’m molding this block so it can be used to construct a wall.” He approached the third, who said proudly, “I am building a cathedral!”

My friends, in the midst of scandal, we too can feel as though we’re just hammering away for no good reason. But we must always remember that for we who believe – even in the midst of our brokenness – that resurrection is always the final chapter of our story. Let us hear the words that Jesus spoke to Francis as He speaks them now again to us and rebuild this cathedral that is the church – a cathedral made not of stone and mortar, but build of living stones – built of you and me; built of love and kindness; compassion and mercy; healing and holiness and strength. And let us rebuild it the same way Francis did, by embracing the Gospel in everything we do, and calling our brothers and sisters – all the way up to our bishops and pope – to build this cathedral with us, so we can once and for all leave this scandal behind. It is time to rebuild again – together. Will you build it with me?

May the Lord give you peace.

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