August 22, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – In place of my daily blog post today, I’d like to offer an important homily by Canon Heitor Matheus, ICRSS, at St. Mary’s Oratory, Wausau, Wisconsin, on Sunday, August 19, 2018. We are printing it here with the canon’s kind permission.
By way of clarification, I think it is important to grasp that any major crisis in Church history is not simply the result of “this or that” person failing to do his job. It is often the result of many people neglecting their jobs. So, while the responsibility for clerical crime rests squarely on the shoulders of its perpetrators, the larger and more uncomfortable question we have to ask is: Why is the Lord permitting this catastrophe in the Church today? What might we have done wrong or failed to do right? If we do not ask this question, we will rest satisfied with the goal of just retribution (which is entirely legitimate!) and yet fail to learn a deeper lesson we are meant to learn, so that we can convert to the Lord and thereby become the instruments He wants to use in restoring and refreshing His Church.
Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Canon Heitor Matheus, ICRSS
The subject I intend to speak about today is not an easy one. But one cannot simply ignore what has been going on and pretend nothing has happened.
The scandals we have seen during these past fifty or sixty years are very painful to the Church. And because it hurts, we would be inclined not to talk about it, and simply let it go. However, it would not resolve the matter. Because the solution of a problem does not come from denying its existence. We have to be realistic. If there is a problem, we should learn how to deal with it. So what we have to do is to learn how to face these terrible things we see today.
These scandals have shaken the faith of so many good people. Some have stopped believing in God because they were deceived by men. But we cannot forget that our Faith is based, not upon man, but upon God Himself. He is the Rock of our salvation. We believe because God has revealed Himself. Even if all priests were to be unworthy, it would not change anything concerning the truth of our religion.
Traitors—we have always had traitors since the beginning of the Church. When Our Lord Jesus Christ chose the twelve apostles, there was a traitor among them: Judas. A man who was chosen to be an apostle and who spent three years very close to Our Lord. A man who received the mission to preach the Truth and even the power to work miracles. A man, who was ordained a priest on Holy Thursday… that man was a traitor. He exchanged the life of his Master for money; he left his vocation behind in order to satisfy his passion. In his case, it was the love for money that made him lose God, but it could have been any other vice. Judas could have had a throne in heaven, but he preferred hell. Oh, how disturbing it is, to see the fall of an “angel”!
But here, it is important to notice that the first Christians did not lose their faith because Judas was a traitor. Nor they believed that, because Judas was an apostle, so all the other apostles were traitors as well. No. If we follow the proportions given in the Holy Gospel, we could say that in every 12, there is one traitor. So when you hear about a scandal concerning a priest who was not worthy of his vocation, please remember, I beg you, the other 11 good priests that you don't hear about in the news. Remember and be consoled, because for every traitor, there are eleven other good servants of God.
We cannot distrust Peter, James, John, and all the others because of Judas. Yes, there was a traitor among the apostles, but there were eleven others who remained faithful. So we should not allow these scandals to shake our Faith. This is the work of the devil, trying to destroy the Church of God, and to bring shame and dirt to Her spotless Face. All this confusion, all these heresies, all this immorality, is nothing but the smoke of Satan that has entered the Church.
Nevertheless, the Church remains the Church, the Bride of Christ, even though Her face may be disfigured by the sins of Her members. The Church is not rotten, even though there may be rotten people inside Her. Remember: The Church in herself is without sin—but not without sinners.
But we could ask ourselves: What is the root of the problem? What is the cause of all these scandals?
My brethren, there are two causes: First of all, comes the wickedness, the malice of these criminals, who are personally and completely responsible for all the evil they do. And they have done so much evil, they have hurt so many people. The lowest place in hell is reserved for this disgraced offspring of Judas, for all unfaithful priests, if they do not repent.
So this is the immediate cause of the problem: the malice of these traitors, who have abandoned God to serve the idols of their evil passions.
However, there is still another cause that we could call mediate or remote, but not less important in order to understand the problem. And this cause, my brethren, this cause is our own sins. The sins of each one of us.
I know that we would prefer not to hear that, but the fact is that bad priests are a punishment of God because of our sins. Let me read for you what Saint John Eudes wrote four hundred years ago:
The most evident mark of God’s anger and the most terrible castigation that He can inflict upon the world are manifested when he permits His people to fall into the hands of clergy who are priests more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity of devoted shepherds. When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is angry with His people, and is visiting His most dreadful anger upon them. That is why He cries unceasingly to Christians: “Convert, O you revolting children, convert, and I will give you pastors according to my own heart” (Jer 3, 14–15). In this way, irregularities in the lives of priests constitute a scourge visited upon the people in consequence of sin.
My brethren, these words should make us tremble. The sad state in which we find the Church today is the consequence of our sins. We are being punished by God.
This crisis that we experience today is, in the end, a crisis of holiness. Lack of holiness, first of all, in the clergy, but also lack of holiness in the laity. Through our own unfaithfulness, we have provoked the wrath of God. And that is where we are today.
But what could we do, now, in order to help the Church in these very difficult times?
The first thing to do, my brethren, is to implore God for holy priests. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Pray the Lord of the harvest, that He may send workers into the harvest.” The Church always understood these words as an obligation for all faithful to pray and to do penance, asking God to send us holy priests.
Until fifty or sixty years ago, the Church would have, every year, twelve days of prayer and penance asking God for the sanctification of the priests—this is what we call “the Ember Days.” Twelve days of prayer and penance—which for most Catholics do not exist anymore, because they were suppressed in the liturgical “reform.” With changes like this, we wonder why things have fallen so low! Because today, who prays for priests? Who does penance for them? I am afraid that not many people here would be able to raise their hand. We have to remember that the faithful have a grave responsibility in the sanctification of the clergy.
The second thing we have to do to help the Church is to work on our own personal sanctification, because, as we have seen, the plague of bad priests came upon us as a punishment for our sins. We need to understand that we are a Body, and the sins of one member affect the other members. Our sins have spiritual consequences, not only for ourselves, but also for our families and for the entire Church—in such a way that we could say that when we lower ourselves through sin, we lower the entire Church. But when we strive to elevate ourselves through holiness of life, we elevate the entire Church with us.
In this way, my brethren, all these scandals should be for us a call to personal conversion, a call to pray more, and to do more penance, asking God to be merciful unto us, and give to His Church good priests, holy priests, according to His own Heart.
So there are three things to remember when we hear about a scandal. Number one: Our Faith is not based upon any man, but upon God. Number two: Among the twelve apostles themselves, there was a traitor. And number three: Priests rely on your prayers.
Therefore, my brethren, complaining is not enough. If we want good and holy priests, we need to pray.