Excerpts from Homily delivered at Espirito Santo parish in Fall River, MA
Yet, despite all of that, one of them was a traitor. One,
who had followed the Lord, who had had his feet washed by the Lord, who had
seen him walk on water, raise people from the dead, and forgive sinners,
betrayed the Lord. The Gospel tells us that he allowed Satan to enter into Him and
then sold the Lord for 30 pieces of silver, handing him over by faking a
gesture of love. "Judas," Jesus said to him in the garden of Gethsemane,
"Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" Jesus didn't choose
Judas to betray him. He chose him to be like all the others. But Judas was
always free, and he used his freedom to allow Satan to enter into him, and by
his betrayal, ended up getting Jesus crucified and executed.
So right from the first twelve that Jesus himself chose, one
was a terrible traitor. SOMETIMES GOD'S CHOSEN ONES BETRAY HIM. That's a fact
that we have to confront. It's a fact that the early Church confronted. If the
scandal caused by Judas was all the members of the early Church focused on, the
Church would have been finished before it even started to grow. The Church
recognized that you don't judge something by those who don't live it, but by
those who do.
Unlike the Media, focus not on the Scandalous, but the
Instead of focusing on the one who betrayed, they focused on
the other eleven, on account of whose work, preaching, miracles, and love for
Christ, we are here today. It's on account of the other eleven — all of whom
except St. John was martyred for Christ and for the Gospel they were willing to
give their lives to proclaim to us — that we ever heard the saving word of God,
that we ever received the sacraments of eternal life.
We're confronted by the same reality today. We can focus on
those who betrayed the Lord, those who abused rather than loved those whom they
were called to serve; Or we can focus, like the early Church did, on the
others, on those who have remained faithful, those priests who are still
offering their lives to serve Christ and to serve you out of love. The media
almost never focuses on the good "eleven," the ones whom Jesus has
chosen who remain faithful, who live lives of quiet holiness.
Scandal is unfortunately nothing new for the Church. There
have been many times in the history of the Church when the Church was much
worse off than it is now. At each of the times when the Church hit its low
point, God raised up tremendous saints to bring the Church back to its real
mission. It's almost as if in those times of darkness, the Light of Christ
shone ever more brightly. I'd like to focus a little on a couple of saints whom
God raised up in these most difficult times, because their wisdom can really
guide us during this difficult time.
St. Francis de Sales: Are we committing Spiritual Murder or
One saint God raised up after the Protestant Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation was not principally about theology, about the faith
— although theological differences came later — but about morals. There was an
Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, who went down to Rome just after the papacy of the most
notorious pope in history, Pope Alexander VI.
This pope never taught anything against the faith — the Holy
Spirit prevented that — but he was simply a wicked man. He had nine children
from six different concubines. He put out contracts against those he considered
his enemies. Martin Luther visited Rome
just after Alexander VI's papacy and wondered how God could allow such a wicked
man to be the visible head of his Church. He went back to Germany and saw
all types of moral problems. Priests were living in open relationships with
women. Some were trying to profit from selling spiritual goods. There was a
terrible immorality among lay Catholics. He was scandalized, as anyone who
loved God might have been, by such rampant abuse. So he founded his own Church.
Eventually God raised up many saints to combat this wrong
solution and to bring people back to the Church Christ founded. St. Francis de
Sales was one of them. At the risk of his life, he went through parts of what
is now Switzerland,
where the Calvinists were popular, preaching the Gospel with truth and love.
Oftentimes he was beaten up on his way and left for dead. Once he was asked to
address the situation of the scandal caused by so many of his brother priests.
What he said is as important for us today as it was for his listeners then. He
didn't pull any punches.
He said, "Those who commit these types of scandals are
guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder," destroying other people's
faith in God by their terrible example. But then he warned his listeners,
"But I'm here among you to prevent something far worse for you. While
those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those
who take scandal — who allow scandals to destroy their faith — are guilty of
spiritual suicide." They're guilty, he said, of cutting off their life
with Christ, abandoning the source of life in the Sacraments, especially the
Eucharist. He went among the people trying to prevent their committing spiritual
suicide on account of the scandals. I'm here to preach the same thing to you.
St. Francis of Assisi:
It is Christ who ministers the Sacraments
What should our reaction be then? Another great saint who
lived in a tremendously difficult time can help us further. The great St.
Francis of Assisi lived in the 1200s, which was
a time of terrible immorality in central Italy. Priests were setting
horrible example. Lay immorality was even worse. St. Francis himself while a
young man even gave some scandal to others by his carefree ways. But eventually
he was converted back to the Lord, founded the Franciscans, helped God rebuild
his Church and became one of the great saints of all time.
Once one of the brothers in the Order of Friars Minor asked
him a question. This brother was very sensitive to scandals. "Br.
Francis," he said, "What would you do if you knew that the priest
celebrating Mass had three concubines on the side?" Francis, without
missing a beat, said slowly, "When it came time for Holy Communion, I would
go to receive the Sacred Body of my Lord from the priest's anointed
What was Francis getting at? He was getting at a tremendous
truth of the faith and a tremendous gift of the Lord. No matter how sinful a
priest is, provided that he has the intention to do what the Church does — at
Mass, for example, to change bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, or in
confession, no matter how sinful he is personally, to forgive the penitent's
sins — Christ himself acts through that minister in the sacraments.
Whether Pope John Paul II celebrates the Mass or whether a
priest on death row for a felony celebrates Mass, it is Christ who himself acts
and gives us His own body and blood. So what Francis was saying in response to
the question of his religious brother that he would receive the Sacred Body of
His Lord from the priest's anointed hands, is that he was not going to let the
wickedness or immorality of the priest lead him to commit spiritual suicide.
Christ can still work and does still work even through the most sinful priest.
And thank God!
If we were always dependent on the priest's personal
holiness, we'd be in trouble. Priests are chosen by God from among men, and
they're tempted just like any human being and fall through sin just like any
human being. But God knew that from the beginning. Eleven of the first twelve
apostles scattered when Christ was arrested, but they came back; one of the
twelve sinned in betraying the Lord and sadly never came back. God has
essentially made the sacraments "priest-proof," in terms of their
personal holiness. No matter how holy they are, or how wicked, provided they
have the intention to do what the Church does, then Christ himself acts, just
as he acted through Judas when Judas expelled demons and cured the sick.
Church reactions & the best response - Prayer and
And so, again, I ask, "What should the response of the
Church be to these deeds?" There has been a lot of talk about that in the
media. Does the Church have to do a better job in making sure no one with any
predisposition toward pedophilia gets ordained? Absolutely. But that would not
be enough. Does the Church have to do a better job in handling cases when they
are reported? The Church has changed its way of handling these cases, and today
they're much better than they were in the 1980s, but they can always be
perfected. But even that is not enough. Do we have to do more to support the
victims of such abuse? Yes we do, both out of justice and out of love! But not
even that is adequate. Cardinal Law has gotten most of the deans of the medical
schools in Boston
to work on establishing a center for the prevention of child abuse, which is
something that we should all support. But not even that is a sufficient
The only adequate response to this terrible scandal, the
only fully Catholic response to this scandal — as St. Francis of Assisi
recognized in the 1200s, as St. Francis de Sales recognized in the 1600s, and
as countless other saints have recognized in every century — is HOLINESS! Every
crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of
saints. Holiness is crucial, because it is the real face of the Church.
There are always people — a priest meets them regularly, you
probably know several of them — who use excuses for why they don't practice the
faith, why they slowly commit spiritual suicide. It can be because a nun was
mean to them when they were nine. Or because they don't understand the teaching
of the Church on a particular issue. There will doubtless be many people these
days — and you will probably meet them — who will say, "Why should I
practice the faith, why should I go to Church, since the Church can't be true
if God's so-called chosen ones can do the types of things we've been reading
about?" This scandal is a huge hanger on which some will try to hang their
justification for not practicing the faith. That's why holiness is so
They need to find in all of us a reason for faith, a reason
for hope, a reason for responding with love to the love of the Lord. The
beatitudes which we have are a recipe for holiness. We all need to live them
more. Do priests have to become holier? They sure do. Do religious brothers and
sisters have to become holier and give ever greater witness of God and heaven?
Absolutely. But all people in the Church do, including lay people! We all have
the vocation to be holy and this crisis is a wake-up call.
It's a tough time to be a priest today. It's a tough time to
be a Catholic today. But it's also a great time to be a priest and a great time
to be a Catholic. Jesus says in the beatitudes we heard today, "Blessed
are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander
against you falsely because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in
heaven is great." I've been experiencing that beatitude first hand, as
some priests I know have as well. Earlier this week, when I finished up my exercise
at a local gym, I was coming out of the locker room dressed in my black
clerical garb. A mother, upon seeing me, immediately and hurriedly moved her
children out of the way and shielded them from me as I was passing. She looked
at me as I passed and when I had gone far enough along finally relaxed and let
her children go — as if I would have attacked her children in the middle of the
afternoon at a health club!
Rejoice ! Great time to be Catholic and Christian
But while we all might have to suffer such insults and
slander falsely on account of Christ, we should indeed rejoice. It's a great
time to be a Christian, because this is a time in which God really needs us to
show off his true face. In bygone days, the Church was respected. Priests were
respected. The Church had a reputation for holiness and goodness. It's not so
One of the greatest Catholic preachers in American history,
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, used to say, that he preferred to live in times when
the Church suffered rather than thrived - when the Church had to struggle, when
the Church had to go against the culture. It was a time for real men and real
women to stand up and be counted. "Even dead bodies can float
downstream," he used to say, pointing that many people can coast when the
Church is respected, "but it takes a real man, a real woman, to swim
against the current."
How true that is! It takes a real man and a real woman to
stand up now and swim against the current that is flowing against the Church.
It takes a real man and a real woman to recognize that when swimming against
the flood of criticism, you're safest when you stay attached to the Rock on
whom Christ built his Church. This is one of those times. It's a great time to
be a Christian.
Some people are predicting that the Church is in for a rough
time, and maybe she is, but the Church will survive, because the Lord will make
sure it survives. One of the greatest comeback lines in history happened just
about 200 years ago. The French emperor Napoleon was swallowing up countries in
Europe with his armies bent on total world
domination. He then said to Cardinal Consalvi, "I will destroy your
Church." "Je detruirai votre eglise!" The Cardinal said,
"No you won't." Napoleon, all 5'2" of him said, "Je detruirai
votre eglise!" The Cardinal said with confidence, "No you won't. Not
even we have succeeded in doing that!"
If bad popes, immoral priests and thousands of sinners in
the Church haven't succeeded in doing so from the inside — he was saying
implicitly to the General — how do you think you're going to do it? The
Cardinal was pointing to a crucial truth. Christ will never allow his Church to
fail. He promised that the gates of hell wouldn't prevail against his Church,
that the barque of Peter, the Church sailing through time to its eternal port
in heaven, will never capsize, not because those in the boat won't do
everything sinfully possible to turn it over, but because Christ, who is in the
boat, will never allow it to happen. Christ is still in the boat and he'll
never leave it.
A personal testimony - why I am a better priest
The magnitude of this scandal might be such that you may
find it difficult to trust priests in the same way you have in the past. That
may be so, and that might not be completely a bad thing. But never lose trust
in Him! It's His Church. Even if some of those he chose have betrayed him, He
will call others who will be faithful, who will serve you with the love with
which you deserve to be served, just like after Judas' death, the eleven
apostles convened and allowed the Lord to choose someone to take Judas' place,
and they chose the man who ended up becoming St. Matthias, who proclaimed the
Gospel faithfully until he was martyred for it.
This is a time in which all of us need to focus ever more on
holiness. We're called to be saints and how much our society here needs to see
this beautiful, radiant face of the Church. You're part of the solution, a
crucial part of the solution. And as you come forward today to receive from the
priest's anointed hands the sacred Body of your Lord, ask Him to fill you with
a real desire for sanctity, a real desire to show off His true face.
One of the reasons why I'm here in front of you as a priest
today is because while I younger, I was under-impressed with some of the priests
I knew. I would watch them celebrate Mass and almost without any reverence
whatsoever drop the Body of the Lord onto the paten, as if they were handling
something with little value rather than the Creator and Savior of all, rather
than MY Creator and Savior. I remember saying to the Lord, reiterating my
desire to be a priest, "Lord, please let me become a priest, so I can
treat you like you deserve!" It gave me a great fire to serve the Lord.
Maybe this scandal can allow you to do the same thing. This
scandal can be something that can lead you down to the path of spiritual
suicide, or it can be something that can inspire you to say, finally,
"Lord, I want to become a saint, so that I and the Church can give your
name the glory it deserves, so that others might find in you the love and the
salvation that I have found." Jesus is with us, as he promised, until the
end of time. He's still in the boat.
Just as out of Judas' betrayal, he achieved the greatest
victory in world history, our salvation through his passion, death and
resurrection, so out of this, may He bring, and wants to bring, a new rebirth
of holiness, a new Acts of the Apostles for the 21st century, with each of us —
and that includes YOU — playing a starring role.
Now's the time for real men and women of the Church to stand up. Now's the time for saints. How do you respond?