17th Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: July 24, 2022
What do we do when we are scandalized by the church? What do we do when we are confronted by media, family, friends, or colleagues criticizing and pointing out the failures of the church? In the past decades we have faced the shame of the clergy sex abuse crisis, recently we have been confronted by the Residential School history.
Many of us have perhaps had bad experiences with a priest or a fellow Catholic. This past two years as a priest I have had a number of parishioners and others speaking to me about how it has been a struggle for their faith facing the failures of the church on public display.
Well, first of all we should realize that the church, though a divine body rooted in Christ and founded on the rock of Peter and the Apostles, is also a human institution. It is made up of human beings. In fact, God chooses to work through and in regular human beings like us. With all the weaknesses, failings and betrayals that this can involve. Jesus entered human history and our human world without any special privileges. Ultimately facing even the evil of a powerful Empire and the self-protecting religious authorities who crucified him.
From the very beginning we have seen the failings of this human church. We see the betrayals and misunderstandings of the first disciples of Jesus in the Gospels. We see in the letters of St. Paul the various struggles, divisions and failings in the early church. If we explore church history we see many events and persons which did not reflect the Gospel of Jesus in a good way.
Our first step is not to ignore this reality of the weakness of the church, it is not to try to defend it against these criticisms. We need to have a deep spiritual maturity that allows us to recognize the weakness and failings of the church. Then we work to constantly renew the church, that it will more closely reflect the image of Christ, at least in our own lives and our own parish.
Pope Francis gives us a great example of how to respond to the failings and historical faults of the church. His visit to Canada at this time has taken the theme: “Walking together.” His first step has been to listen. Just to listen carefully and with great care and respect. Then to walk with the indigenous peoples and look for ways that we can move forward together. We cannot fix or change the past, but we can hopefully bring about a reconciled future.
The second step is that we are to persevere in the Church, for without the Church, the memory of Jesus would not still be alive today. We only have the Bible today because the Church assembled, preserved and continued to share it. We only know Jesus today because the memory of Jesus has been kept alive through the Church, mainly in the Eucharist in which the Church has continued to do what he asked, “Do this in memory of me.” To say that I want Jesus, but do not want the Church, fails to recognize that without the Church we would not have Jesus.
The scandals and failings of the church can be very discouraging for us. Face them honestly and listen carefully to those who have been hurt by the church. But, it is also good for us to look at what it is that gives me encouragement, gives me hope about the church, that keeps my faith alive.
What is it that keeps your faith alive in the face of church scandals and failings and the negative talk that we face from media, family, friends and colleagues?
For some of us it might be certain books that really encourage us in our faith. For others it might be certain members of the church that encourage us in our faith. Perhaps some saints or perhaps certain members of the church today. Maybe a parishioner or for many of us, our connection to the faith has been the result of grandparents. Today is the day of prayer for grandparents. I see so many who have their faith supported and encouraged by grandparents today
.Some things that inspire me and encourage my own faith and love for the church are the Catholic Social Teachings, Ignatian Spirituality, our beautiful Catholic funeral rites.
But a key important step in persevering in the church is found in our gospel today. The disciples see Jesus praying and ask him to teach them to pray. Prayer is crucial to keep us connected to the living God. Prayer encourages us when faced with scandals, with persecution, with the failings of the church or with our own failings. Remain rooted in prayer that will allow you to persevere in a world where the life of faith can be a lonely way.
Scandals and other failings of the church can be discouraging for us and lead to struggles with our faith. It is good for us to look at what we appreciate about the church, what are the gifts it brings to us, and to be rooted in a deep and intimate prayer life.
It is possible to be scandalized and even angry at the church and still love and appreciate the church. This is our challenge and it is only a deep and intimate life of prayer that will allow us to do this.