01 APR 2010
FR. JOHN HOLLOWELL
ST. MALACHY CHURCH
Every Holy Thursday, by mandate of the Church, the homily is to focus on charity, the Eucharist and the priesthood. Given the atmosphere of things right now, I want to spend most of my time focusing on the priesthood.
I love movies and so I watch a lot of previews online to see which ones I really want to see.
I was recently watching one for an upcoming summer blockbuster in which the villain said a phrase that really caught my attention. He said – ''If you can make God bleed people will cease to believe in Him and there will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come.''
The same applies to God’s Church. There are many out there who think that if they can make the Church bleed, people will stop believing in it.
And OH, they have tried. The attacks on the Church in the last two weeks would be sad if they were not also a display of the most childish journalism.
1) The Indianapolis Star published an article a few days ago on page 2 of the main section about protests in London calling for the Pope’s resignation. In paragraph 7 that we learn it was a couple dozen protesters.
A COUPLE DOZEN. I just returned last month from the March for Life, which saw 250,000 young people protest the atrocities against life that our country commits daily, and not a word in the star. 30 people stand on the streets of London, and they make national news. HUM.
2) A little over a week ago, another article in the Star, pretending to be balanced, talked about the abuse case that is now making headlines and quoted two people on behalf of the Church. First, Hans Kung. What they didn’t say is that Hans Kung was one of the few people to actually be forbidden to teach theology by Pope Benedict when he was still a Cardinal. Who honestly thinks that Hans Kung is going to speak on BEHALF of the Catholic Church or Pope Benedict. REALLY? Hans Kung?
The articles other voice ''on behalf of the Church'' was a member of the ''Voice of the Faithful.'' The Voice of the “Faithful” is a group of people who consider themselves Catholic but who hate nearly every central teaching of the Church.
Those are the two voices who are supposed to give a balanced perspective on the Church and celibacy??
The article also featured a juvenile understanding of things Catholic, interchanging celibacy and chastity as if they were the same thing – a pretty serious mistake when celibacy was the point of the article.
3) New York Times writer Maureen Dowd has absolutely gone off the deep end with her story trying to link Pope Benedict to a case in Wisconsin. I could spend 10 minutes debunking every lie in her article, but many have charitably done so on the internet.
4) MSNBC published a headline which they apologized for a day later which said ''Pope Describes Touching Boys: I Went Too Far.'' The article had nothing to do with the pope. Was the headline an accident? To the average person on the street who won’t care to follow up with the facts, can that damage ever be repaired?
5) Cartoons in editorials have been blatantly anti-Catholic and anti-priesthood throughout the country.
6) Newsweek magazine recently published an article by Fr. Richard McBrien, a teacher at, surprise, Notre Dame, who has been teaching outright against the Church for 4 decades. Again, a big shock that he wasn’t exactly pro Church or pro priesthood.
7) The media machine also loves to talk about a priest shortage (a sure sign that the priesthood is dying out in their minds) – but the United States has one of the best ratio of Catholics to priests in the world. Are the numbers lower than the 50’s, yes, but that is because we had more than we needed. A priest friend of mine is a pastor of a parish with about 500 people in it. The rectory he lives in housed at least two priests in the 50’s, perhaps three. My priest friend has three parishes and manages just fine - those priests had one parish. Is there a decline, or is the situation just getting more realistic?
I could go on, but you’ve all seen the Church and the priesthood dragged through the mud.
Before moving on, let me here say for the first of many times, the crimes committed against children by priests is sickening, needs to be punished to the fullest extent of both Church and secular law, it needs to be rooted out NOW. Any bishops that knowingly protected those priests ought to resign instantly. This homily tonight is not about justification of the tragedies that have happened in any way!
The question that does need to be raised here is this – do the actions of this small portion of priests apply to the priesthood in general? To the over 400,000 priests serving today.
A question here needs to be asked – what would motivate people to attack the Church and the priesthood in this way?
Some just like seeing if they can move something that claims to immovable by human beings.
Some have genuinely been hurt by a member of the Church.
But I suspect most see the Church as the last voice that speaks out against contraception, abortion, wars of aggression, unjust social structures, and unchecked greed.
The real battle here is between two competing views of what sets human beings free. Atheists and others who hate the Church particularly or Christianity in general like to offer one view of freedom. They say, ''If we can just get rid of God and get rid of the Church, then human beings will be truly free.'' They believe, ultimately, that religion suffocates humanity and stifles its flowering. That view is contrasted with the view of the Church. What sets humanity free in the eyes of the Church is living as Christ showed us. The two sides directly contradict the other, and so there is a war going on between these two views of where true freedom lies.
We get a glimpse in tonight’s Gospel of those with the mindset that religion suffocates humanity, and we see what perhaps motivates them.
Something VERY interesting happens. Peter says to Jesus, ''You will NEVER wash my feet.''
Why is Peter so offended?? – It is because the world is safer where God does Godly things, and humans do human things.
If we keep God over there, in heaven, the good guy, the guy who floats on a cloud, and if we are the human beings who are to simply continue to wallow in the mire and the muck of our lives, then we don’t have to go through the uncomfortable hassle of CHANGING, of SEEKING FORGIVENESS, OF CONVERSION!!
God, you stay over there, we say. Be Holy, fix things, send down hail and fire if you want, just leave us alone. Be God, and we will be human sinners.
We want, down deep, to be left to the madness of our sins. We want there to be a divide between the Holy and the Human.
So when Peter sees Christ on a knee, he freaks out. ''Lord, you will NEVER wash my feet!''
But with Christ’s words, we see the gravity of this moment. Peter wasn’t just saying that to Jesus to be nice. He meant what he said, and we see the severity of the situation affirmed by Jesus when he says – ''Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.''
That human beings can stand in the place of Christ, and be his presence in our midst through the sacraments is more than some can handle. The Catholic Priesthood stands in opposition to the divide between the Holy and the Human. The Priesthood reminds people that humans are supposed to do God things, and that God works and does human things.
Priests are, in some ways, the last reminders to our world of what Jesus was sent to do. A friend of mine once said ''You don’t get it, you are the last sign of the Church to people out there.''
He didn’t mean me – he meant THE PRIESTHOOD. He meant this white collar. The priesthood is not an individual priest, it is something much more than that. Trust me, I know my own limitations very well. Indeed, no doubt, some of you probably wish I preached differently, or held my hands differently, or didn’t chant, or smiled more, and I’m sure you have a list for Fr. Joe as well – much shorter than mine of course! – and I’m sure he has a list of things for me that he’d like to see changed! I, of course, have no complaints for him! that myself and Fr. Joe have shortcomings is the whole point that most of the world doesn’t get. The Holy and the Human, through Christ, through his Church, through his priests and through ALL OF US are to be mingled. This mingling takes place most notably through the Eucharist. We receive him, and the Holy and the Human mingle.
Those that say to Christ – ''You will never wash me'' and who want God to stay in Heaven so that they don’t have to change have to overcome the priesthood itself. They have to devalue the priesthood, they have to change it and bend it according to their own will. The first thing they always come after – celibacy. A great Church historian once said that all the great attacks on the Church start by attacking the priesthood and celibacy. That is true from the earliest heresies through Arians, the Gnostics, the Agnostics, the Lollards, the Jansenists, the Donatists, the Hussites, the Lutherans, and now the dissenters of the Church and atheists. The game plan has always been this – TOPPLE THE PRIESTHOOD AND WE TOPPLE THE CHURCH. Celibacy is said to cause all the problems that we see right now with the abuse cases. They hear not just angry journalists but even some ex priests saying – ''I made this vow in my youth, and it just became more than I was expecting.'' HELLO – does that sound like any marriages any of you know about?? EVERY vow becomes more than people bargained for. Married Life, Religious Life, The Priesthood – it all is more difficult and MORE rewarding if lived right, than people bargained for.
Also, those who hate the Church have always, throughout history, sought to make the priesthood a club that anyone can join, because they know that then it loses its power. They portray the current priesthood as some rich boy’s club set up solely to keep others out and preserve power. Let me just say that that historian was right, when you meet someone who is trying to change the Catholic priesthood into what they think it should be, you should run far away from them because Heresy and Dissent and hatred of the Church follow quickly in their footsteps. To those people, the priesthood is no longer something that God gives as a gift to the Church, it is something humanity makes for itself. The divide between the Holy and Human is reestablished. Humanity is free to be irresponsible and live however they want once again.
The Letter of the Hebrews in this morning’s office of readings smashes the portrayal of priesthood as an ''all are welcome club'' to pieces. Referring to the priesthood, St. Paul says ''ONE DOES NOT TAKE THIS HONOR ON HIS OWN INITIATIVE.'' The priesthood was established by Christ – about that the Scriptures are very clear.
In the preparation of the Gifts, the priest pours water into that which is still wine and says silently, ''By the mingling of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.'' Priests are called in every age by God to be signs that in Christ the Holy and the Human have mingled. In the Eucharist, the Holy and the Human have mingled. And in all of us here, the Holy and the Human have mixed. It is the Church’s vision of humanity which is meant to set us free. May we not settle for the vision of humanity that those who hate the Church and want to devalue the priesthood offer up.
And so, we remember the words of that movie, ''If we can make God bleed, people will stop believing in Him.'' Well God has been bleeding for 2,000 years now, and His Church has been bleeding for 2,000 years because it is full of people who sin. Some rejoice at the blood because they believe it spells the end of God or of His Church or both, thus setting humanity free to rule itself. We the Church mourn our sins, but just as those who hate the Church, we too rejoice over the fact that God is bleeding; we rejoice because Christ’s blood will win us a freedom that those who hate the Church could never imagine.+