A Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I had a conversation recently with an elderly European couple who had abandoned the practice of their Catholic faith because they said that they could no longer stomach the unending scandals in the Church and the widespread cover-up by the members of the hierarchy. They spoke bitterly of the many clerical abuses and scandals that had to do with money, power, and sex and how these were all shrouded in secrecy by those in authority. Their pains and frustrations were palpable. They are probably one more casualty to the painful scandals and inexcusable cover-ups that have plagued the Catholic Church in the last few years.
But is abandoning the Catholic Church the right response to the scandals and cover-ups in the Church? Is a rejection of the divine and Catholic faith that we received at baptism the logical response to the wicked, unexplainable, and irresponsible actions and cover-ups of some of the clergy? What do we need to keep in our minds and hearts if we are going to be faithful to our Catholic faith in these times of grave scandals?
Our Mass Readings today give us some crucial pointers for fidelity to the Catholic faith in our scandalous times. First of all, God is always in control and He knows and sees all the injustice among His people. The Prophet Jeremiah asserts that God sees the “shepherds who mislead and scatter His flock,” shepherds who have “scattered the sheep and driven them away.” God responds to the negligence of the shepherds by personally taking over the shepherding of His flock, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.”
This prophecy of God personally shepherding His flock is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the God-man who is forever the invisible Head of the Church, and who knows everything that we are going through individually and as a body. If Christ is the invisible Head of the Church, then we can surely do our part with generosity to curb this menace of clergy scandal and trust God to do what He loves to do, which is to bring good mysteriously out of evil of the scandals of our times.
Secondly, God still chooses to make use of human shepherds, “I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble, and none shall be missing, says the Lord.” The failure of the shepherds does not mean that God will no longer require human shepherds. Jesus once said to His disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach but do not practice.”(Mt 23:3) God will continue to shepherd His people through a weak and imperfect group of shepherds as His instruments. We draw greater hope and strength for living our faith in our scandalous times when we dwell more on the unshakable faithfulness of God to us than on the infidelity of His human shepherds.
Thirdly, the shepherds will be held responsible for their own failures, “You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.” God is ever merciful but evil deeds and scandals have their consequences, “Woe to him by whom scandals come! It would be better for him if a millstone was hung around his neck and he was cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”(Lk 17:1-2) Our shepherds will surely be held responsible for their failure to shepherd the flock as they should. But we too will also be held responsible for how we let their scandalous behavior quench the fire of our faith. We must give account for our Catholic faith we have been graced with, “Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required.”(Lk 12:48)
The Gospel gives us a fourth reason for fidelity in these scandalous times: God knows best what we all need at every moment of our lives. God’s blessings are not generic but He meets us at our point of need with exactly what we need. Today’s Gospel shows us that Jesus knows the deepest need of His audience even before they speak a single word just as He assured us, “Your Father knows what you need even before you ask Him.”(Mt 5:6) He offers rest to the hungry and weary disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” The crowd that followed Him had so many needs that they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus knew that they needed truth above all things, “He began to teach them many things.”
In the Church today, Jesus knows exactly what we need and when we need it. He knows when we need to be enlightened about certain unchanging truths like the truths of our faith and morals, the truth about God and His undying love for us, the value of suffering in our Christian life, the true way of responding to divine love at all times, etc. He readily consoles each of us in our afflictions and afflicts us when need to be afflicted out of our complacence and easy compromises. God pours the light and strength of divine grace in abundance in our hearts at times of scandals like ours, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”(Rom 5:20) The reality of scandals should not diminish the reality of abundance grace that we have at hand for our fidelity today.
Fifthly, St. Paul reminds us that our reconciliation with God and our unity and peace in the Church come from the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and not from the good work or sanctity of any one of us, “For He (Christ) is our peace, He who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His flesh…He established peace and reconciled us with God, in one body, through the cross.” If our reconciliation with God in the Church and our unity and peace in the Body of Christ was purchased by Christ’s own passion and death on the cross, then how can we hope to remain in the Church without a participation in the suffering of Christ? The Church was born on the Cross and it matures and grows through the Cross too. Our choice to be faithful in these scandalous times should be seen as our participation in the suffering of Christ our Head who was ever faithful to the Father’s will even as He was betrayed, abandoned, blasphemed, and condemned to death by those who should have known better. We forfeit the abiding peace of Christ when we abandon the faith that He won for us on the cross simply because of the scandalous behaviours of a few in the Church.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these are times of grave scandals in the Church. There is the scandalous behaviour of some clergy, the widespread cover-up from Church authority, Church teaching that is adapted more to the secular culture than conforming to scripture and tradition, promotion of deviant behaviours by those who are responsible for safeguarding and teaching the faith in words and actions. Many of the faithful who are graced with the sensus fidei know that things are not what they should be and are tempted to discouragement and abandoning their Catholic faith. But we do not need to yield to that temptation but we must persevere in our faith even in our scandalous times because “only those who persevere to the end will be saved.”(Mt 24:13)
Our divine and Catholic faith received at Baptism teaches us that our Eucharistic communion is with the risen Christ, the invisible Head of the Church, the one who knows all that we are going through regarding scandals in the Church. He is the “author and perfecter of our faith.”(Heb 12:2) Having graced us with the gift of faith from the cross, He is now perfecting our faith through the painful scandals of our times by offering us all the graces and light that we need at this time to be faithful to Him. As we participate deeply in His divine life by this grace, let us also be ready to share in His suffering for the sake of peace and unity in the Church. This is how our Catholic faith grows and matures continuously no matter the gravity or the number of painful scandals in the Church today.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!