Homily on John 6 and the Crisis in the Church
Sunday, August 12th, 2018 — 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Seven weeks ago, while I was still in my former parish, after the news first broke about Cardinal McCarrick, about how the Vatican was removing him from active ministry because of credible and substantiated accusations of sexual abuse, I decided to preach on the tragic nature of this devastating news.
You see, as a seminarian, I was close to Cardinal McCarrick. He often visited us seminarians, and for many of us, he became a grandfatherly figure. In fact, it was in part because of a homily he preached that I decided to enter seminary.
I looked up to him, and was inspired by his kindness, and what seemed to be his dedication to prayer and service. Because of this, I asked him to come and speak at my first Mass.
I never knew about the secret life he lived, the many times — so we have learned — when he lured seminarians to his vacation homes and took advantage of them, sexually abusing them.
The revelations were a great shock to me, not only because of the great sadness I felt, thinking about all the young men he took advantage of, but also because of the utter disappointment I experienced, thinking of how this priest had fooled so many of us, and had led astray God’s flock in so many ways, pretending to follow the way of Christ the good shepherd, when all along he was following the way of the robber, the way of the wolf.
That Sunday I preached about Cardinal McCarrick, I spoke about how the only solution to this crisis is holiness. I spoke about my hope, that the Church would stop apologizing, and start acting. And how, in order for that to happen, the Church in her members, and especially in her clergy, needs be held accountable.
A lot has happened since that homily, seven weeks ago. The news has gotten much worse.
It turns out that Cardinal McCarrick was even more a monster than we first realized, and that many did in fact know what he was doing. The question is now being asked in earnest: how could he have advanced so far in the Church and gained so much influence, all while others knew of his double life?
In addition, dioceses all over the country continue to be shaken by more revelations of scandal: priests using their power and position to indulge a life of lust and impurity, and even to take advantage of and abuse those in their care.
The lens has now turned to the bishops themselves. What in the world, so many have asked, have they been doing all this while? Instead of standing up for the truth, rooting out corruption, confronting the wicked, and protecting the weak, they have covered up the truth, ignored corruption, protected the guilty, and abandoned the innocent, again and again.
Even now, some bishops continue to make excuses, saying that, this news is disappointing, but it’s not a crisis.
Of course, the people of God know better. This is easily the worst thing to happen to the Catholic Church in the United States in its 400 year history. And we are only beginning to see how deep the rot goes.
And yet, even now, good bishops are rising up to challenge their brothers. They are joining the voices of many in the Church, calling for investigation and accountability, the many priests and lay faithful who have become that voice in the desert crying out, demanding conversion, pledging their own efforts in bringing about the reform of holiness and accountability that the Church so desperately needs, to root out these dark secrets from the life of the Church.
The Gospel today, providentially chosen by God for this time, tells us about a very different kind of secret. Not a secret of corruption, of a double life, of lust and impurity. But a secret of fidelity and of truth, of hope and of love, a secret we have looked for and longed for all our life.
Jesus says, no one has seen the Father, except the one who is from God, his Son. He has seen the Father, and he comes to tell the world the truth about him.
You see, because of all this bad news, we are tempted to think: We have been abandoned. We have been left alone. We have been left at the mercy of so much corruption and abuse.
There is no greater fear than the fear of a child who believes he is utterly helpless, utterly alone.
This is the experience of the child who is abused — and this is why it is so easy for one who has been abused to suffer despair, to self-medicate and dull the pain, to turn away from others so as to never risk being hurt again, and to even contemplate suicide, to remove that helplessness and loneliness forever.
The abused child feels this most intensely, most terribly: but this is the nature of all sin.
This is the lie of the dark spirit, who above all wants us to think: you have been abandoned by the Father. You have been left alone.
And maybe we end up believing it. And we slide into despair.
Or even worse, we choose to become one with the horror itself: we give ourselves as an instrument to its wickedness, grasping for some sense of power and gratification as we use and inflict this pain on others, as we become images of the very evil that has conquered us, until once again, we are faced with the fear we could not run away from, that we are abandoned and alone.
The Gospel today tells us a different secret.
Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, the incarnation of everything the Father could say, tells us:
I will give my flesh for the life of the world.
Jesus Christ reveals the Father, the Father whom the world had not known, whom the dark spirit had obscured and hidden by his lies. Jesus reveals the Father, and shows us what the Father says.
The Father says, you have never been alone. I have never forgotten you. Even when you felt most abandoned, I was with you, and I am with you even now.
The Father says, look at the pierced heart of my Son. Through it, I have felt every bit of your suffering. I know it more deeply than anyone else.
I did not abandon you. I have come to rescue you. I have done the greatest thing I could have done: I have given you the flesh of my Son, and he has offered himself as a sacrifice for you — to rescue you, to save you, to heal you, to make you whole again.
The root of this crisis in the Church is that so many bishops and priests did not follow the way of the shepherd, the way of Christ, who gives his flesh for the life of the world.
Instead, they sought to cannibalize the flesh of their brothers and sisters — whether explicitly, by sins of lust and sexual abuse, or implicitly, by covering up and looking past the corruption, by failing to rebuke the wicked and heal the broken.
The truth is, this has long been the way of the world, since the fall of man. How many times have all of us been neglected or ignored, when we should have been protected or healed? And how many times have we ourselves failed to rebuke the wicked or heal the broken, to speak up and take action?
It’s almost enough to make one despair.
How important then the mystery proclaimed in the Gospel today, the mystery we celebrate on this altar!
The dark spirit is a liar! We do have a Father who loves us! We have not been abandoned, and we are not alone. The Father has been with us all along, and he is fighting to rescue us, to save us, to heal us, and to make us whole again.
How do we know? Not just by words. Words can be powerful, but they can also be cheap.
Jesus proves these words by his actions. He proves them by the answer he gives us today, the same answer he gives the Church in this crisis: I will give my flesh for the life of the world.
The gift of his flesh is the power that conquers all things, because it is the perfect offering, the most worthy sacrifice, the most effective instrument.
God says it, and he proves it, by his actions. He proves it by this Eucharist. He gives himself completely to save us. He does not use or abuse or ignore or neglect. He sacrifices. He sacrifices his Son for us, who gives us everything he has, even his own life, his very own flesh.
And he will be victorious: he has risen as he said he would, and he will come again as he has promised, to judge the living and the dead, to establish his kingdom once and for all, and to make all things new again.
Clergy like myself should take notice, and therefore model everything they do on Christ the good shepherd, the one who perfectly revealed the truth about the Father, the one who will never leave us, the one who gives his flesh for the life of his flock. Because however powerful our speech may be, if we do not now prove it by our actions, no one will ever believe our words.