I woke this morning to the sounds of the crickets finishing their evening chorus to the rising sun, and I laid in bed for a few minutes starting my conversation with God for the day. As I did so, the words of the Act of Contrition started to flow through my mind.
“And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment.”
I couldn’t help but continue to think about all of my own sins of my life and how I was truly sorry for them and wanted God’s grace to continue to get better, but also how tied to those sins was a just punishment. I prayed that someday, someone would have the sense to continue to pray for my soul after death as, hopefully, I underwent my own purification in Purgatory before going to be with God for eternity in Heaven.
Then, of course, my mind couldn’t help but turn to the current scandal facing the Church because of so many men in power who also sinned, and who also didn’t do the right thing when the situation called for it. The ongoing, renewed, and even bigger than imagined scandal of abuse of minors, covering it up, fostering and allowing an environment of sexual immorality – all of it is so terrible and heinous and unimaginable. I detest all these sins by members of our own body, members of Christ’s body.
[N.B.: If you would like to hear a summary that comes close to some of my own thinking on the current scandal, listed to the guys on the Armchair Podcast, episode 50. They come remarkable close to thoughtfully talking through the issue in a way that resonates with me deeply.]
Purification must come, is surely coming, for our Church in the present day. This is good in a wonderful way, because through it, God will ensure that the human shell in which the Church resides – WE, THE PEOPLE OF THE CHURCH: Bishops, priests, deacons, religious, lay people of all stripes – will be holy and continuing to grow in holiness. Certainly the purification will be painful and difficult. Persecution will be real, in new ways. Tears will be shed. Things will likely look very different in our Church before another generation passes.
But the truth remains that God has given the keys to Peter, and his given the Eucharist to the Church, and has promised to protect it from the gates of Hell for all eternity. No man or woman – no Cardinal or Bishop – no one of us – can remove God’s promise and gift in that regard. None of our indiscretions can change what God is, nor what His Church is.
There is a church here in town with a sign outside right now that reads, “Come as you are. You can change on the inside.” The sentiment of that sign disturbs me greatly, because it turns from the objective truth of God, and the fact that we need something from the outside to help us change, some outside force. It so candidly states the modernist view that we are what we think, and we can change that on a whim.
If anything, the scandal facing our Church right now shows that you cannot change from the inside. Outside forces of earthly justice will shine light on what was done wrong and help to change from the better, from the outside.
Just the same, we cannot change ourselves from the inside. Something from the outside is needed. Often, with sin, it is the help of a friend calling us back from an addiction or something else that they see us doing. Or it is the love of a friend that we finally decide to choose above the sin that has become ingrained in our life.
Wisdom calls to us in our First Reading this weekend. She calls us to the banquet of knowledge: of knowledge of God, of virtue, of a sense of objective right and objective wrong. Knowledge calls to us this weekend, as a Church, and as individual human beings, men and women who make good and bad choices every day. Wisdom calls from outside, and She calls us to Her rich banquet.
Jesus continues the discourse on Himself as the Bread of Life in the Gospel this weekend. He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” He isn’t a change that we think we can make happen on the inside. He is truly a change that He Himself, God Himself, provides for us from the outside – Food, no less, to shape us and nourish us, and tie us ever-closer to Himself.
Those around Him when he taught this truth quarreled in disbelief. “How can he?”
But Jesus replied that unless we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, we cannot have life within us. We lose Wisdom, the knowledge of right and wrong. We lose heavenly life. We lose our way.
My friends, as we receive the gift that is God’s presence among us, the presence of Wisdom, the true Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – whether it be this Sunday, or twenty years from now – whether it be our twentieth time or our two thousandth time, say a prayer of Thanksgiving for this food for the journey. Say a prayer of Thanksgiving for our Church, His Body, and for good and holy priests.
Because Jesus’ promise remains through all the generations of scandal that humans bring upon the Church. His Body and Blood come to the altar every day through the altar of good and holy priests – and, if we’re honest with ourselves – through those in whom there is still much room for growth in holiness, or even in whom there is much evil.
I don’t want to lighten or turn from the present scandal and needed purification. But if we’re honest with ourselves, each of us, myself included, still have much room for growth in holiness, still have much evil. We all need Christ’s Body, we all need Wisdom from Word and Eucharist to change us from outside and help us continue to grow toward God. We all need each other, Church, now more than ever.