By Father Anthony F. Raso
This has been a difficult and heartbreaking year for our Roman Catholic Church. In fact, it has been a difficult millennium. The hurricane of scandal that has beat against the rock of the Church has left all of us shaken in heart and uncomfortable in mind.
How could this have happened? Why did those priests, who undoubtably joined the priesthood with good intentions, violate the trust that families put in them in such a terrible way? Why did too many bishops just transfer these men around, presumably to keep a lid on these terrible sins?
Why did God allow such a terrible thing to take place in His Church?
It is in asking that last question that we will find ourselves in the right place to begin to discover the answer to the other questions. Our readings this weekend place us in the presence of our Heavenly Father Who is reaching out to us, especially at this moment in our Church’s history.
Jeremiah, from whom we hear in the first reading, is famous for being a decidedly gloomy prophet. He wasn’t all that happy to have been called by God in the first place and he expresses his discontent many times in his book. However, he doesn’t seem too gloomy today. In fact, it is quite the contrary: “Shout with joy for Jacob … Proclaim your praise and say ‘the Lord has delivered His people.’”
Still at Their Side
At a time when the people of Israel were genuinely suffering – and more than a few of them were questioning whether God was still with them – Jeremiah reminds them that God was certainly at their side and was ready to lead them home again. He tells them that the Lord says: “I will gather them from the ends of the earth … They departed in tears but I will console them and guide them … For I am a father to Israel, Efraim is my first-born.”
That message was given to Jeremiah to deliver to a nation that had been devastated by their exile, and today, it has been given in a special way to all of us, devastated by the scandals. The Jewish people were the “first-born” of God in the Old Testament and now, we are the “first-born” of God from our roots in the New Testament.
Although all people who praise God are under His watchful eye – our Protestant sisters and brothers who proclaim Jesus as their Lord are especially blessed and have blessed the world with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham and many others – we, who are Roman Catholics, were founded by Christ upon the Rock of Peter, which is now seen in Pope Francis.
We are the “first-born” who have loved the Holy Trinity and whom the Holy Trinity will never abandon. Even in what appears to be the winter of our discontent, Jeremiah is reminding us that God is still Our Father and He calls out to us now, just as He always has.
Be Like Bartimaeus
We should never allow ourselves to forget this. There are a lot of people who, like the crowd in the Gospel today, may rebuke us for this belief and tell us to wake up, smell the coffee and be silent. Like Bartimaeus, we should never give up on Jesus and His Church.
If we call out to the Son of David today, the Son of David will be listening. We must “take courage (and) get up,” because Jesus hears us and is calling out to us now in return, just as He did for Bartimaeus. It is our faith in Him that will save us.
Swept Away by Weakness
The priests who hurt those young people were weak men and allowed themselves to be swept away by their weakness, and that has been a terrible tragedy.
Part of the reason it has been such a tragedy is that, once again, they didn’t set out to hurt anyone. However, they did so anyway.
In my 43 years as a priest, I have known some of these men. Especially in the case of those I knew in the seminary, their dedication was plainly seen and their motives in studying for Holy Orders was praiseworthy. Something went terribly wrong. In many cases, I have been amazed by whom the individuals are in which this terrible wrong developed. Their sins, and the covering up of their sins, never should have happened, but it did, to our great sorrow.
We must also listen well today to the author of the Book of Hebrews who tells us: “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God . He is able to deal with ignorance and error for he himself is beset by weakness.”
All By God’s Grace
The priest in the confessional is there, not because he is never tempted, but precisely because he is tempted. By the grace of God, he can understand how all of us are tempted to do things we never thought we’d do. By that same grace of God, we are forgiven.
Every priest who is serving God in His Church now should pray for his brothers who have lost their way and must pay a heartrending price for that now. All of us should pray for them, and pray that God will come to His Church now and restore her to confidence in faith, hope and love.
We are reminded today in eloquent terms that, even when we wander away from God, if we turn back to Him in hopeful prayer we’ll find Him again, waiting for us right where we left Him – and that coming together again will be forever.
Readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Hebrews 5: 1-6
Father Raso is a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.