In some ways its been a tough year for clergy on the blogs. A lot of what I consider to be bishop bashing has been going on, and lots of wrath and venom for the Catholic clergy in general. While I expect this from the secular world, most of it of late has come from certain segments of the Catholic laity.
For many on the right, we clergy don’t take up their agenda with sufficient zeal or follow it to last detail. Hence we are a grave disappointment. For many on the left we have long been dismissed as an outdated “boys only club” with an out-dated and irrelevant doctrine.
In all this we clergy are not merely innocent victims. Though the doctrine of the Church we teach is not flawed, we who preach it are flawed. We have sins and shortcomings. Sins of omission, and of commission. I am not sure we deserve as much venom as we get, and I remain very alarmed at the open hostility to bishops who are, after all, our shepherds and fathers. My own earthly father was not perfect but I had been schooled to appeal to my father with respect and do air my differences with him privately and with deference to the fact that he was my father.
But the fact is we clergy do need your mercy and forgiveness, your prayers and understanding, your patience and encouragement and also your kind but clear rebuke. For we do fall short in many ways and are sometimes unaware or insensitive to the negative impact of our personal shortcomings.
If there ever was a golden age when the clergy were all we want them to be, I am not sure when it was. For even at the beginning the apostles showed forth sin, ineptitude, and the struggle to live perfectly the life they proclaimed. Even after Pentecost any reading of Acts or the pastoral epistles shows some divisions and shortcomings of the clergy. Paul’s advice to Timothy and Titus to be careful before laying hands on men also suggests that there had been troubles.
Wednesday of Holy Week is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” since it is this day when Judas conspired with the Temple Leadership to hand Jesus over. He would accomplish his task the evening of the next day, but today he makes arrangements to hand Jesus over and is paid.
One way to reflect on this terrible sin is to reflect that Judas was among the first priests called by Jesus. We see in the call of the Apostles the establishment of the ministerial priesthood. Jesus called these men to lead his Church and minister in his name. But one of these priests went wrong, terribly wrong, and turned against the very one he should have proclaimed.
Among the other “first priests” we also see great weaknesses evident. Peter in weakness denied Jesus, though he repented later. All the others except John fled at the time of the passion. And so here we see the “sins of the clergy” made manifest. Christ did not call perfect men. He promised to protect his Church from officially teaching error but this does not mean that there is no sin in the Church and among those who are called to lead. The story of Judas shows that even among those who were called, one went terribly wrong.
In recent years there has been much focus on the sins of Catholic Priests who went terribly wrong and sexually abused the young. The vast majority of priests have never done such things, but those who did so inflicted great harm.
There are other sins of the clergy that have nothing to do with sexuality that may also have caused great harm. Maybe it was an insensitive remark. Perhaps it was the failure of a priest to respond at a critical moment such as a hospital visit. Whatever it might be that has caused you harm or alienation, please don’t give up on God or the on the Church. If a priest or Church leader has caused you grief or to feel alienated please know that there are other priests, deacons, and lay leaders who stand ready to hear your concerns and offer healing. Let the healing begin. Ask among your Catholic family and friends for recommendations about helpful and sensitive priests or Church leaders who can listen to your concerns, address them where possible, and offer another opportunity for the Church to reach out to you with love.
On this “Spy Wednesday” pray especially for priests. We carry the treasure of our priesthood in earthen vessels. As human beings we struggle with our own issues. We have many good days and some less than stellar moments too. The vast majority of Priests are good men, though sinners, who strive to do their very best. But some among us have sinned greatly and caused harm to the Body of Christ, as did Judas. Some of us may have caused harm to you. Please accept an invitation to begin anew.
If you have stayed away through some hurt or harm caused by any leader of the Church, strive on this “Spy Wednesday” to still find Christ where he is found. Among sinners and saints too, in the Church he founded: Perfect in her beauty as the Bride of Christ but consisting of members who are still “on the way” to holiness.
As usual, after all my verbiage, a music video offers this message better than I ever could. Allow this powerful video to move you if you have ever been hurt or know someone who has.