Wednesday, November 28, 2018

DOCTRINAL TALK BY FATHER ED BLANCHETT

Scandal is nothing new to the Church or indeed to human understanding itself; it is as old as recorded history. The Old Testament is full of stories of individuals and kings from King David on, who behaved atrociously; just count how many times the kings of Israel made their children “pass through the fire”, a practice of sacrificing their children to the pagan god Moloch. At its very beginnings, the Church saw scandal in its leaders: Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied Jesus; all of the Apostles – except John – abandoned Jesus (probably with Peter leading the way out of town). In the 1500’s the behavior of many Catholic priests and bishops was so atrocious that an Augustinian priest decided the only way to deal with the situation was to separate from the Church. Although dedicated leaders such as St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Ignatius of Loyola led a true Counter-Reformation to address these failures, Martin Luther and others initiated the Protestant rebellion that continues to rock Christianity through today and into the foreseeable future. And, lest we think that the crisis was only about the money given for indulgences, St. Catherine of Siena bemoaned in her writing The Dialogue about the “stench of sin” coming from the papal court and prophesized that even the demons were disgusted by the sexual activity they had tempted priests into and the coverup by their superiors!

Given all this history and the current sexual scandals we find ourselves, how could the Catholic Church possibly be the “One, True, Church”? The effects of these scandals will also continue to rock us for the foreseeable future. First of course is the toll taken on the innocent victims devastated by the crimes committed against them by clergy. As we now know, some Catholic bishops, who were in authority over these men dismissed their behavior and took the pretext about how they were “just following the advice of mental-health professionals” of the time when re-assigning them into parish ministry, even in parishes with schools and contact with children. 

There is no earthly way to undo the damage done to the victims of these scandals. The goodwill, respect and trust that had been extended towards the Catholic Church in the 20th Century has largely evaporated, making an increasingly cynical and hostile attitude towards the Church by outsiders and confusion from those who have remained faithful. I and many of my brother priests have been shocked, embarrassed and discouraged at having to answer for the damage done by the “Judas priests” who have betrayed their vows and the trust given to them so horribly. 

How could the Catholic Church possibly be the “One, True, Church”? That is a question we need to look at closely if we can ever hope to move forward appropriately, both for ourselves and to those who challenge us. Acknowledging the tragic reality of scandals in the Catholic Church is the only appropriate first step towards providing an adequate response: showing that, in spite of these scandals, there remains a solid and compelling reason why people should be Catholic. Because – in spite of the scandals – the Catholic Church has the answer to all of life’s most urgent problems and challenges. The very fact that we are all justifiably shocked and horrified by the terrible things done by Catholics shows exactly what happens when Catholic teachings, in particular her moral teachings, are ignored and rejected, especially by clergy, given the fact that we have been in some sense been called to a higher and stricter standard of behavior.

That’s a first step, where does it go from there? The answer, frankly, is quite basic: we must remember that – in some form or another –the answer to the many problems in life is the gospel, the “Good News”, of Jesus Christ. Not in the sometimes overly simplistic sense that many of our separated brothers and sisters in Christ see it, and certainly not the way “prosperity Gospel” proponents preach it. Teaching, preaching and living the gospel message of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church’s response to the world’s easy and shallow attempts to living a life immersed in pleasure, power and pride: what the Bible refers to as “the world, the flesh and the devil.” The Catholic Church is the ark of salvation because the head of the Church is Christ, not its sinful members. And speaking of boats, listen to Mark chapter 4:

 A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”* The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” 

There have been and, sadly, there will continue to be times when it appears that Jesus is asleep as the wind and waves of life appear and toss the ark of the Church so violently that it seems it will capsize and sink. We must have faith in Christ and in his promises to be with the Church always, no matter what, no matter how misguided and malicious some of the members of the Church may be. Let’s listen this time to Matthew chapter 13: 

Jesus proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

Jesus prepared us to realize that uncomfortable and even confusing circumstances would surround the Church, just like a field of wheat which has weeds mixed in it: those Christians who are genuine followers of Jesus and those who just have the appearance. That’s a real challenge: in the parable, Jesus used the word “darnel” for weeds, which look just like wheat. One detail which isn’t known to most non-farmers is that the head of darnel weed stands straight up, kind of like so-called Christians who are proud of their virtue, while real wheat droops slightly, in the way that true humility of followers of the holy One would be. 

Scandals are part of the life of the Church not because of its teachings and customs, but because individual Catholics choose to ignore and reject those teachings. Consider celibacy, one that mainstream media seems to be enamored in citing as a root cause for pedophilia. This gift, freely chosen by men for the sake of the Kingdom is not the cause of sexual misbehavior among priests. It is when a priest abandons his commitment, when he turns away from striving for the ideal, that he sins. Although priests are certainly not alone in this atrocity, what causes society to respond so strongly when the perpetrator is a priest is that, as much as outsiders will deny it, society expects Catholics to live up to the high moral standards imposed by Catholic teaching. This makes it all the more shocking when a priest or bishop betrays his solemn promise to be a chaste celibate.  

The cause of all scandal – both that within the Church and outside of it – is always traceable to one important starting point: when we say “yes” to serious sin, usually done as the result of a whole string of small compromises and rationalizations with sin. Scandal starts when someone makes a decision to take the easy path – usually one that promises and may even deliver a brief pleasure – with little or no thought to the later consequences to that action. It’s been that way since the beginning, when Satan chose to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden. And just like that long-ago test of humanity in its original holiness, let’s never forget that, first and foremost, this is a spiritual battle. It drives Satan crazy when we try to be virtuous, because that’s a sure sign that we’re not under his influence, that we’re headed for Heaven. He doesn’t care a whit about us, he only wants to keep us from God, to frustrate God’s plans: Go ahead, eat the fruit of that Tree, you won’t die but you will become like God! A lie our original parents bought at the beginning, a lie that we continue to buy, to our own destruction and to the grave harm of those around us.

Thank God and thank our Savior that, although our first parents said that first “No!” to God and we continue to say “No!” to Him in our own actions, He didn’t then – and He doesn’t now – abandon us. The voice of our conscience, the law “written upon our hearts” as is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, warns us against doing things we know deep down are bad and wrong and, after we’ve done them, it makes us of our guilt but then also prods us to repent and turn away from sin. God hardwired us to have basic virtue and to make good moral decisions. But because of our wounded nature, we can’t rely only on ourselves. We need more help and that’s why He gave us the Church. The teachings and most especially the sacraments of the Church repair and restore the damage that we inflict upon ourselves and give us the strength and guidance to avoid further damage in the future.

But we see what happens when some of its members – especially some who should know better – misuse the very instrument that Jesus gave us to continue his work in the world. As tragic as the scandal has been on those who have been victimized as well as to the world in general, its tragedy (and the furthering of Satan's work against the Church) will be most greatly realized in the number of souls who may be lost due to the trust betrayed and the despair that follows. We would do well to start any hope for recovery by praying for them and also for the souls of the shepherds who chose, either in action or by allowing, such action to continue and either have or will stand before God to answer for such deeds. 

Just as those responsible will have to stand before God's justice, we have to remember that our actions need to be in justice as well. Sometimes we are so caught up in the hype that, in the passion that our emotions generate, we lose sight of this. For example:


  • Following the Pennsylvania grand jury report, several states Attorneys General have announced their own investigations into accusations, and these have made headlines often in the past few weeks. One thing those headlines often fail to say is that accused does not mean convicted. Keep in mind that many of the incidents are accusations that still have the right to due process. Of course, one abuse is one too many but it does not do to assume that all abuse claims are true. 
  • The majority of abuse cases are decades old; in many cases the accused has died. It may not be possible - or extremely difficult - to determine the facts of such cases and determine how justice can be humanly determined. Of course, this does not preclude making investigation where possible; however, it does at least admit where it may not be possible. 
  • Just about every news article I've seen implies that the Catholic Church has done nothing to prevent this problem from recurring. Anyone involved in Church ministry - priests, staff and volunteers, most of you here today - know that the Church has implemented and continually monitors the VIRTUS and background screening programs to both identify individuals unsuited for ministry as well as how to identify when a situation of abuse might be occurring. Far from doing little or nothing to prevent abuse, the Church has created methods of combating this disease that has become a model for other organizations - religious and otherwise - to follow.
  • The conclusion - whether implied or outright stated in news items - is that a large percentage, possibly even a majority, of clergy are culpable or complicit and are not to be trusted. This is - literally - a damnable lie. If we turn away from our faith leaders, the shepherds who have been called by the Holy Spirit to lead us, despite their human flaws, to the Kingdom of Heaven, we must keep in mind what Peter said to Jesus when so many disciples turned away from Jesus when he told people that they must eat his body and drink his blood (the famous "Bread of Life" discourse from John chapter 6): "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." It would be a mistake - one that may have eternal consequences - to leave Peter because of Judas. While we may come to know some aspects of God through our own reason, we will never get sufficient knowledge of God without His grace and revelation - grace that we receive primarily through the sacraments entrusted by Christ to His ministers, the clergy of the Catholic Church. Please pray for the many bishops, priests and deacons who work tirelessly in guiding those entrusted to them closer to Christ every day.  
We are a deeply wounded Church and expect those responsible to be brought to justice. No one is above the call for justice, no matter how high up in the Church leadership they may be; in fact, it is right to hold them to a higher standard and accountability. But also remember that the Church is and always has been, not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners - and we should thank God that this is so. As we picture those who have perpetrated this atrocity standing before God's throne, let's not forget that we too will do so, maybe not for sins of such grave scandal, but certainly ones that are an offence to God's justice. As we trust in God's mercy for ourselves, let's not be too quick to deny His right to extend mercy to others - God's mercy and justice are in perfect balance, even if ours is not. In the meantime, we should also call for and work for justice balanced by mercy, as imperfect as that work may be, because that's how we are called to do God's work while in this life. 

As a priest, I will try to keep in mind the words that Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Minneapolis St. Paul-Minnesota gave in his homily at Mass for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recent meeting in Baltimore regarding the sexual scandals: “This is our moment to give it our all, to listen attentively to those who are hurt, to listen deeply with discerning ears and hearts to each other as we share the fruits of our prayer, the fruit of our discussion, the fruit of our experience. And to act in a way that convincingly shows our commitment to change.” 

That’s what I intend to do as a priest. As a Catholic, as a member with you of the “One, True, Church” even with all its problems and sinful members, I’ll remember that she teaches us the truth that will set us free, even though not every Catholic obeys those teachings. As I mentioned before, the Church throughout her history has been called “the New Ark of salvation” and I think that’s an image that works on many levels; think about that for a moment. Noah’s Ark: a boat full of animals; can you imagine what it must have smelled and sounded like? But at the time of the great Flood, it was also the only safe place on earth for those creatures, from the gentle dove to the powerful and ruthless predators such as lions and tigers. As long as they stayed on board, they were safe. The scandals may be seen as Catholics – priests who committed these atrocities and the bishops who covered them up, those who ignored and disobeyed the Catholic teachings on proper moral behavior, individuals who have given in to despair – who have abandoned ship and have dived overboard. And we see where it gets them. Those who stay onboard the Ark may have to endure cramped, smelly and sometimes frustrating conditions, but they will be saved in the end. 

!De Colores!  

FORGIVENESS by MARY ANN DOWD


Prayer: Lord your Cursillistas gathered before you this day ask for courage-the courage to live out in our daily lives the faith we profess with our lips.  Amen

I want you to close your eyes and think of one thing-your first love.  When you fell in love you wanted to know everything about that person.  What makes him or her happy what are the joys sorrows and most of all how to please that person.  Well, the author of those feelings, God, is no exception.  The most amazing love that we can imagine is exactly how God loves us.  Beyond our wildest dreams and he holds nothing back from his beloved.  One of the first commands he gave us was Love to "Love one another as I have loved you"....there is no greater love than this to lay down your life for your friend."   Isn't that what we do when we forgive the hurt that someone has caused us.  We  put aside our "self-love" for sacrificial love "Christ-like love"

Now it is very important to say right here and right now that the first forgiveness is reserved for ourselves-- we cannot go beyond ourselves to forgive another until we are able to internalize the realization that God forgives us as long as we are truly sorry for our sins and avail ourselves of the sacrament of reconciliation. 

"Our Father - forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"  When we sin against God we are trespassing against our own souls.  forgive yourself as HE forgives you.  In this way we free ourselves to go beyond ourselves to forgive others.

Our Lord doesn't ask us to be complicit in sin and error.  Listen to what He said:  "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."  This prayer may seem overly simple at first glance but think about it.  He is asking His Father to bless them because they truly did not know what they were doing.  Do we?  Think about it-does any one of us REALLY know what we are doing when we sin.  I am talking about the true cost of offending God?  If the agony in the garden, the scourging and the crucifixion came to mind every-time we sinned, would we still persist in our sin?  It was very deliberate on my part not to talk about all the repercussions of sin: (All the Jewish Babies are Crying.)  Sin and its aftermath of destruction is very real and present in our world today but for every evil there is also a very real way out that God has provided to us.

No, only God knows the true cost because only HE paid the price. When we pray for our enemies we are placing them in His hands and only God can do what is best for the salvation of their souls.  The souls HE loved and died for so only HE can know the true disposition of that soul.  When we turn it over to God we are truly praying for our enemies.

This was the whole reason Jesus left the glory and perfection of heaven to come to earth to suffer and die for each and everyone.  Even the most unlovable.  He came not only to die but to live as the perfect model of the perfect human being.  Jesus' words: "I am the Way the Truth and the Life....come follow me."

"As we measure out to others so shall it be measured to us"

Lord how many times should I forgive 7 times?  Seventy times 7 times.  Or, in other words every single time we are offended.  Again Jesus is not only telling us how to live but revealing Himself to His beloved.  This is why I believe that true forgiveness is a sure arrow straight to the heart of God.    Forgiveness, my dear brothers and sisters is a MASTER CLASS IN JESUS CHRIST. 

Every night before we go to bed, we should make an examiniation of conscience and then ask Our Lord to forgive us.  He told us to forgive 70 times 7 times He revealed His Great Mercy so of course He will forgive you.  If we die that night we go straight to HIS loving Arms and if not he gives us another chance each day to begin again not to offend.  How can we then deny that to our brothers and sisters when it is so important to the one we love?  

He was our first love and he will be our last.  The Alpha and the Omega.  And yet, we put all kinds of qualifications on forgiving others.  Jesus told us not only to forgive but to pray for our enemies...Pray for them...surely Jesus doesnt expect us to pray for  the boss who treated my husband so unfairly, the corrupt politician? The couple who cheated us in business? and especially not those horrible terrorists-- pray for them?  The very people who are persecuting Christians, destroying their shrines and antiquities and murdering them in the most horrific manners.  Do you know who I just described to you St Paul, the patron Saint of Cursillo.  Jesus forgave him for he knew not what he was doing.  Perhaps it was the prayers of St. Stephen, as he was being martyred, that saved Saul and made him a Saint.  The very Saint we Cursillistas invoke every time we gather.

"Father forgive them for they know not what they do."

Now here is even a harder truth about forgiveness to think about.  We are all familiar with the commission of the apostles to forgive sins when Jesus said:

"whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven-whose sins you shall retain they are retained."

There are two ways to look at this statement God gave to his priests the power to forgive sins in the sacrament of Penance.  When we go to confession and the priest administers the grace of the Sacrament we have the assurance of the words spoken from Our Lord, HIMSELF, from HIS own lips that we are forgiven.  I realize many of you are familiar with the story of St. Margaret Mary who explained to her confessor that Our Lord was appearing to her -- the doubtful priest asked her to ask Our Lord what the mortal sin was that he had confessed the week before in confession.  The dutiful nun did ask Jesus about this and when she returned to her confessor he asked her....well did you ask Jesus about my sin and what did HE tell you.  To this question Margaret Mary said yes Father I asked Jesus what the mortal sin was that you had confessed and Jesus responded: "I forgot".  At this response her confessor realized that the apparitions were authentic.

This is perhaps the most telling of all the truths of God on forgiveness--that HE not only forgives us but "forgets" our transgressions:   The Sacred Scripture says:  "As far as the east is from the west so far will HE put our transgressions from us"  --"though your sins may be as scarlet HE will wash them white as snow!" 

Could any news that we poor sinners receive be any better than this.  To have true contrition for our sins and confess them and receive the Grace of the Sacrament!  If there is a better way to get to heaven I beg you to let me know.  God's goodness is so good that we have a hard time to take this into our hearts and soul and dear brothers and sisters we must, under grave consequence take this great truth into our hearts.

This great marriage of forgiveness and forgetfulness is not false humility but simply an imitation of Christ.  As Christians we are called very simply to imitate Christ.  There is a direct correlation between our ability to forgive and attaining eternal happiness in heaven.  The Master class in Jesus Christ.  (masters degree, drive, focus-hard work-persistence great accomplishment) God in HIS Great Mercy has provided a very simple way for us to be with Him both in our earthly journey as well as our eternal life.  "Forgive one another as I have forgiven you".  How often have we prayed at the foot of the cross thanking Our Lord for His great love that washed away our sins but where do we draw the line.

It is true that evil deeds committed against us are sinful but so are all the sins for which Jesus gave HIS last breath on the cross.  Jesus did not ask us to be complicit in sin but to forgive the offense and not hold it against the person so to free ourselves and allow the sinner to be able to avail themselves and us of the Mercy of God.

Probably one of the hardest ideas to understand is that God didn't have to shed HIS last drop of blood to save the world.  We have heard this many times. So why did He?  Yes, because of the great weight of sin, yes because of HIS great Love and because of both of these things, he wanted to teach us....  How God looks at sin and forgiveness.  If Jesus had not come to teach and to save there would be no way for us to gain eternal life.  This is a frightening thought perhaps the scariest realization ever.
The consequence of Our Lord's death and the unimaginable love with which HE forgives and forgets was done only to show us how to forgive and forget.  Love one another as...............

If we can by God's Grace forgive those who have hurt us and if even more so we can ask God for the Grace to forget even the most hurtful of transgression because we love Our Lord is that it?    There is yet one more saying of the Scripture to contemplate and this is of utmost importance please think about this very carefully:  whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven and those you shall retain they are retained...whose sins you shall retain they are retained...  These are not words of a great theological translator or Doctor of the Church.  They were spoken from Christ's own lips and give us not just the power to hold our brothers and sister's bound in their sins but if I read the text correctly, in a very real sense, they tie God's hands, so to speak, we are saying we deny God's Mercy to that person.  Now follow me in this.  I am not suggesting that this person cannot be forgiven by God if they are truly repentant.  But by binding them in their sin within our own heart, we are binding ourself to the unforgiveness by refusing to forgive.  So in our stubborn unforgiveness, we in a very real sense, are doing great harm to our soul.  "Forgive us "as we forgive" those who sin against us".  We are making ourselves "prisoners" of our own unforgiveness.  "forgive us as we forgive"  At our Ultreya a few weeks ago we shared what forgiveness and unforgiveness means to us personally.  One of the very inciteful answers was "when we refuse to forgive its like taking poison and expecting someone else to die from it.  Another said forgiving is setting ourselves free and another that forgiveness is not about us.  How true forgiveness is not about us but truly about the one Who made us.  It is a master class in Jesus Christ.

This was the lesson of Christ's life and death "come follow me" not just when its easy and please don't misunderstand following Jesus is not easy(God knows it is not easy)  but it is simple.  Look at what He did how He lived His life that's the whole point.  Today we are looking at a truth about Jesus that is not easy but infinitely simple.  Forgive one another which is just another way to say love one another as I have loved you.  When we forgive as Jesus did we set ourselves free because we give our enemy up to God's Mercy.  It is probably one of the most liberating things we can do for ourselves and our brothers and sisters.  Jesus said He has come that we may have life and have it abundantly.  The generosity of forgiveness is not only a gift we give our brothers and sisters but it is a gift to ourselves and Jesus wants us to be good to ourselves because He loves us so much.

DeColores!