SCANDALS, shortcomings, and sinfulness.
When many people look at Catholics and the priesthood in particular (especially through the biased lens of the secular media), the Church seems to them anything but Christian.
True, the Church has incurred many sins over her two thousand year period through her members—times when her actions have been anything but a reflection of the Gospel of life and love. Because of this, many have been deeply wounded, betrayed, and emotionally, spiritually, and even physically damaged. We need to admit this, and not only admit it, but repent of it.
And this is what Pope John Paul II did in an extraordinary way as he traveled throughout several nations of the world asking particular groups and peoples forgiveness for the sorrows caused by the sins of the Church, past and present. This is also what many good and holy bishops have done to make reparation, in particular, for the sins of pedophile priests.
But there are also many people who’ve never heard the words "I’m sorry" from a priest, bishop, or layman who has wounded them. I understand very well the pain that can cause.
A WISE SURGEON
Yet, as I reflect on this, I cannot help but ask a question: If it is determined that a member of the human body, say the hand, is overcome with gangrene, does one cut off the whole arm? If a leg is wounded and beyond repair, does one also amputate the other leg? Or more accurately, if the pinky of a finger is cut, does one then destroy the rest of the body?
And yet, when one finds a priest here, or a bishop there, or a professing Catholic there who is "sick", why is the whole Church cast out? If there is leukemia (cancer) of the blood, the doctor treats the bone marrow. He does not cut out the patient’s heart!
I am not minimizing the illness. It is serious, and must be treated. In some cases, the sick member must be cut off! Jesus’s most stern warnings were reserved, not for sinners, but for those religious leaders and teachers who did not live what they preached!
Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelations 3:16)
A MATTER OF THE HEART
Indeed, when I speak of the Catholic Church as that one Church which Christ established; when I speak of her as the Fountainhead of Grace, the Sacrament of Salvation, or a Mother or a Nurse, I am speaking first and foremost of the Heart—the Sacred Heart of Jesus which beats at her very center. It is good. It is pure. It is holy. It will never betray, hurt, harm, or damage any soul. It is through this Heart that each of the members of the rest of the body live and find their sustenance and ability to function accordingly. And their healing.
Yes healing, because which one of us, especially those of us who reject Christ’s established Church, can say that we have never hurt another? Let us not be counted then with those hypocrites whom Christ will spit out!
For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? (Matthew 7:2-3)
Indeed, as the Apostles James tells us,
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. (James 2:10)
St. Thomas Aquinas explains it this way:
James is speaking of sin, not as regards the thing to which it turns and which causes the distinction of sins… but as regards that from which sin turns away… God is despised in every sin. —The Summa Theologica, Reply to Objection 1; Second and Revised Edition, 1920;
When anyone sins, he turns his back from God, regardless of the nature of the sin. How sanctimonious of us, then, to point our finger at someone faced away from God while our own back is also turned away.
The point is this: Jesus comes to us through the Church. This was His desire as He Himself commanded in the Gospels (Mark 16:15-16). And what does Jesus come for? To save sinners.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life… God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8)
If we say, "We have not sinned," we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:10)
If we are sinners then—and we all are—then we should not cut ourselves off from God’s gift to us, which comes to us through the Church, because another member is also a sinner. For there are two ways to be cut off from Christ: one is by the Father Himself who prunes the dead branches which no longer produce fruit (John 15:2). And the other is our own refusal to be grafted on to Jesus the Vine in the first place, or worse, to choose to remove ourselves from Him.
He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ… You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother. Our Lord warns us when He says: `he that is not with Me is against Me…’ —St. Cyprian (died A.D. 258); Unity of the Catholic Church.
For the Church is the mystical body of Christ—battered, bruised, bleeding, and pierced by the nails and thorns of sin. But it is still His body. And if we remain a part of it, patiently enduring the suffering and sorrow within it, forgiving others as Christ has forgiven us, we will also one day experience for all eternity its resurrection.