Mass of the Holy Spirit
Sept 11, 2018
1 Cor: 6:1-11; Luke 6: 12-19
After a night of prayer and Jesus chooses the twelve, the apostles, in todays Gospel reading from Luke. Not a bad gospel to reflect on as we begin this school year here at CTU when we often wrestle with how we are all called to be and or become servant leaders in the community of faith. But we sometimes overlook something in Jesus’ choice of the twelve. One didn’t work very well—and Luke, of course, identifies Judas as the one who would betray Jesus. We remember that even from the beginning of the Church, weak, human, and sinful people were called by Jesus to minister – and we know especially that this has never changed down through the centuries and it continues today.
As we begin the academic year it is important for all of us to reflect on a particular consequence of ordained ministers of the Gospel, priests-bishops-cardinals, being fallible and sinful. In light of the recent revelation of the grand jury in Pennsylvania it’s important to look at how the church had failed for years to protect children from clergy sexual abuse. How can we Catholics deal with the terrible history of a Cardinal who for years preyed on young people and yet continued to be promoted through the ranks of the church? What sense can we make of a former ambassador of the Vatican accusing the current Pope of negligence in dealing with this Cardinal and calling for the Pope’s resignation?
My heart is heavy this afternoon, as I’m sure that yours is, too, because this situation has damaged the credibility of the Church and has raised the question in many people’s minds: “Why do I stay a Catholic?” In my 36 years as a priest, and twelve years as a Superior General of an International Religious community, I have counseled many people who were scandalized by past revelations of abuse and terribly disappointed by the insensitivity and even arrogance of church leaders and ministers over this issue. Prayerfully, thoughtfully—and as a matter of conscience, some have decided to leave the church (ironically enough) in order not to lose their faith. Others decided to remain Catholics—and try to make a difference—to improve things from within the Church.
At present there many Catholics hang between these two alternatives. I cannot judge the sisters and brothers who have left, but I think that this afternoon I need to share with you the reasons why I remain a Catholic.
I am presently experiencing a gamut of emotions that I think many of you probably share: frustration that we are back talking about this scandal 16 years after I thought that that the leadership of the Church had dealt with it responsibly in the Dallas Charter. I am also horrified that victims from 10, 20, 30 years ago have not been dealt with in a loving and compassionate way by the church instead of being grilled by lawyers. I also fully agree that the priority here is to safeguard young people—and minister to the victims who have been so heinously betrayed—abandoned by the Church, in the words of Pope Francis. I am convinced that the leadership of the Church must be willing to engage in Jeremy Bergen calls “truthful remembering”—and for Church leaders to be accountable for this betrayal with humility, without threatening lawyers and invoking non-disclosure agreements.
In the midst of all these emotions, though, I still sense the Spirit of God calling out to me with the same challenge I felt when I took religious vows more the forty years ago; God saying that “this is the life I have called you to—this is the path I want you to follow in order to lead a full an abundant life and grow in faith, hope and love.” This path has been more bumpy and crooked than I anticipated back then. I never imagined that I would be as ashamed of the Church as I am today—but God’s same call remains from within this Church that I still regard as “home.” It is a place of both beauty and brokenness. For all its sinfulness and limitations it is within the Church that I have best known Jesus Christ—the human face of God; his loving presence revealed in God’s word, in our rich intellectual and artistic Catholic traditions—in the liturgy and sacraments—and especially in the lives of so many faithful Catholics who embody God’s call to mercy ministering to those who are poor, on the margins and most vulnerable.
I know from my experience as member of parish and school communities and as superior general of my own religious community, that the Church can never be reduced to the wrangling of curial officials inside or outside the Vatican. That is far from the whole story. Before all else the church is a people on a journey to make God’s design for humanity a reality. We make that journey together, in good times and in bad.
It is in this context of Church that I am challenged to heed the voice of the poor and all those on the margins. To believe in the Gospel demands doing something concrete to make this world a more just, gentle and welcoming place. As I walk with those on the periphery, on the margins, they teach me what is really important in life—and what faith is all about. Victims of sexual violence and abuse of authority have something to teach us now. Even though the vast majority of us have not been involved in this abuse, now is the time that we are called to listen and respond.
We begin the school year in the context of this crisis moment in the life of the Church. I look out at this community of learning—men, women, some studying to be ordained, others lay ecclesial ministers, from many cultures and backgrounds—at your faithfulness moved by the Spirit of God, your creativity, your insight and generosity, you are agents of transformation, catalysts of change in a Church badly in need of healing and for new ways to address the many issues that have been obstacles to God’s grace. I alone do not have all the answers; but together, lay, ordained, let’s claim the dignity that flows from our common baptism as members of the Body of Christ and commit ourselves to transform the church into the image that God desires for it. Let’s get to work.
Rev. Mark R. Francis, CSV