Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 6C
During this past week, there’s been some news in the Catholic world, but I won’t say that I find it all that encouraging. For those who don’t know, the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been laicized, which means that he is no longer allowed to celebrate Mass or the other sacraments and should now be addressed and referred to as “Mr. McCarrick.” Ordination, of course, is permanent and cannot be removed, but the Church regulates the exercise of priestly power and of preaching, so as far as is possible, McCarrick has been removed from among the Church’s clergy. Already last summer, allegations against him of abuse became public and were found to be credible and substantiated. I definitely agree with the Vatican’s decision to laicize McCarrick, but I have no illusions that this is actually “a clear signal” that the Church will not tolerate abuse.
I don’t forget that he really should have been laicized several decades ago. I don’t forget that there is still rampant cowardice and institutionalism among his fellow clergy, those who covered for him, and those who allowed or even actively promoted his advancement as a bishop, as an archbishop, and as a cardinal of the holy Church of God, those who enabled him to remain in office long after the first big round of scandals broke in 2002. What I find dangerous and incredibly stupid and naïve about some of the reporting that I’ve heard on this, is that there are those eager to portray this as the end of the affair, finally, the end of a sad chapter of the Church’s history and the beginning of a new chapter of trust and optimism. The same thing that was said back in 2002, with new directives and safe environment training. “Oh, but we really mean it this time.” I will believe that the Vatican is taking this seriously when I actually see negative consequences for those who feign ignorance, those who failed to investigate questions when they knew they wouldn’t like the answers, those who stood by to get ahead. These are not shepherds. These are thieves and robbers that allowed wolves to have their way with the sheep.
The readings today could not be more clear. Those who do not trust in God above all, those who do not fear God more than any human being will always make compromises to just get along. They will serve their own appetites, their own desires for popularity, for ease and comfort. In my first years of the priesthood, I had to make a decision. Would I follow the subtle temptations of using the priesthood to serve my own ends? Would I remain silent on certain topics that would be difficult to communicate, difficult for people to receive? Would I fail to admonish fellow priests and clergy out of fear of how they would react or how that could affect my “career path”? Or, would I follow Christ and the laws of His Church, even if this should prove to be unpopular?
We like to think that we can have it both ways, that there will never be any real conflict between the love of God and love for my neighbor. But there are conflicts. There are times when we have to decide, Will I serve God first, above all? To correct, to admonish, to discipline, even if that means that as a parent you won’t be your child’s best friend? “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” On account of your faithful following of Jesus Christ. “Your reward will be great in heaven, for their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.” But “woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”
Mr. McCarrick and his allies have shown us the rotten fruit of trying to have it both ways. The Way of the Cross, the way of discipleship and following Jesus demands a decision from us. Will we serve God above all, even when that brings trials and persecution? Or will we put our own desires ahead of God’s, to just get along, and to enjoy a false and empty peace and complacency? “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” This is not the end of the McCarrick scandal. If those who are able continue to neglect correcting what needs correction, to fail in disciplining those who need discipline, the Church will continue to suffer for it. But the solution is for all of us to decide today—and every day of our lives—to serve God first, above all. To have no fear of men. So that at the end of our lives, we will have confidence to stand before the judgment seat of almighty God, and to say to Him, “I strove always to live at peace with all men, but I did not shy away from the conflict and the strife that comes from remaining faithful to Your Word above all.”