The “summer of shame” as it has come to be called has left a lot of Catholics seething with anger. They’re mad at the bishops. They’re mad at the pope. They’re mad at priests who promote the gay agenda. They’re mad at priests and bishops who do nothing. They’re mad that the pope shut down the American bishops attempts to do something about the crisis. They’re mad. They’re hopping mad.
I’m mad too, but I’m also aware of other aspects to the strong emotions. Firstly, I think it’s perfectly okay to be mad. The Sacred Scriptures say, “Be angry, but sin not.” I like that. There’s plenty of room for righteous anger. However, the emotion usually passes. Only crazy people stay angry all the time, and if the mood passes we’re likely to drift back into complacency and the hum drum of our ordinary lives. We should use the anger to motivate us to do something about the problem, and to do something positive…not just a non stop rant.
What does that mean? If a person is responsible in some way for discipline in the church–a bishop, seminary rector, director of formation, priest or religious superior, then it is their job to effect the discipline the New Testament and canon law demands. If that is not our role, then we must all do what we can with what we have where we are.
Secondly, it’s is always instructive to take the big picture. One of the reasons I made Triumphs and Tragedies, my podcast series on church history, was for Catholics to see that the corruption, immorality and heresy have always been part of Catholic life–indeed always been part of the life of the people of God from the Book of Genesis onward. Does this make it right? Of course not, but it helps us understand a bit better the mysterious ways of God’s providence.
This is the third point: everybody who is religious has to face the reality of sinners in Christ’s church. Look, what did you expect? A perfect church? No. Furthermore, have you ever been part of one of those religious sects where everything does seem perfect? You know the sort where everyone goes around with a silly grin on their face all the time, where the boys’ hair is combed, the girls are clutching big Bibles and everyone is “practically perfect in every way”? Don’t those groups give you the creeps? Don’t you sense that it is not real, and you’re not surprised when it turns out that the pastor has been bedding the devotees and the deputy leader has had his hand in the money pot.
This is reality. This is the parable of the wheat and tares. The two grow together. Remember, the tares look just like the wheat at the early stage, but the tares are actually poisonous. Furthermore, Jesus teaches that we are to simply leave it alone. The wheat and tares grow together, and only at the harvest will the tares be picked out, for by then they will have remained green while the wheat has grown golden and fruitful. One more point: Jesus says the tares were sown in the field by Satan. Concerned about the sinners in the church: They’re the tares.
Here’s the fourth point: if this is true, then God is working his purpose out not only despite the poisonous tares being there but through them. He used Judas. He used the Jewish religious leaders. He used Pilate. He used Herod. He used the wicked ones to accomplish his glory.
Haven’t you found this true in your own life of faith? He has used your sin to bring you closer to him. He has used the bad things that have happened to draw you closer to his love. He has used the horror of this world to bring you closer to his glory. This is what he does. He uses everything to accomplish his will. That’s what his omnipotence is all about.
Therefore I wonder why I should continue in anger. My God is in control, and he is the one who takes the worst thing that could happen: that we should kill the Lord of Glory–and uses it for our redemption. This is the core message of the cross, and the core message of the Christian gospel. God is working his purpose out and he will use the worst things we can imagine to bring about the very best.
That doesn’t mean we like the bad stuff and it doesn’t mean we put our head in the sand. It doesn’t mean we abandon our anger. It doesn’t mean we trip along in some sort of soft focus Pollyanna religion.
It does mean that God is in charge, and I don’t need to wallow in the anger. I get down on my knees, then get up and get going in my service to my God and my church, and I can do so with optimism and good cheer because I know God’s in charge.
Some people will say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It is that attitude that has allowed all the rot to accumulate in the church.” I understand that and sympathize, but in fact the reasons for the rot accumulating in the church are manifold and complex. It has to do with five hundred years of philosophical, political, theological and cultural rot. It has to do with human sinfulness, deceit and corruption. It has to do with a loss of faith, the loss of moral compass and a multitude of problems.
Nevertheless, God is at work. He does not abandon his church. He is persistent. He is creative. He is gentle and he is kind and he plays a long game.
A very long game.