When the accusations of Archbishop Viganò were first revealed a little over a week ago, I will be honest: I felt envigorated for the first time in years. Having lived for so long under the cloud of oppression that is Pope Francis’ disdain for lovers of Church Tradition, I was like a prisoner squinting in the sunlight after a long time in darkness. I had some fleeting hope that things might finally change. But as the week went on, and this hope faded, I settled into a deep depression. I found myself wandering in a daze through my daily appointments and compulsively checking news reports to see if anything had yet been resolved, totally unable to focus on anything but this. I realized that I haven’t been this paralyzed since the events of 9/11.
I increased my prayer and fasting and tried everything to pull myself together. But every time a new article or reflection would be posted on the internet, the cycle would start all over again…for hours I would search even the mainstream media to see what sort of spin was being given to the latest reports. My husband, worried about me, asked why this was affecting me so deeply. He couldn’t understand that my disappointment wasn’t based on some naïve, starry-eyed concept of Churchmen being benignly above reproach…it was physical sickness that the good and holy priests whom I know personally are the ones who have for years now been made to feel like criminals, begging for permission simply to celebrate Mass the way our ancestors did for over a thousand years, while perverts like McCarrick were promoted to the highest positions in the Church, and agendas to normalize homosexuality in the priesthood were announced from the rooftops to popular applause. That the Church, which ought to be a voice of sanity crying in the wilderness of our modern religion of self-worship, should not merely be silent, but actually among those unapologetically leading in the worship of the golden calf, was too much to bear.
Now, I should tell you that we live next door to a Byzantine Church. Though we are not Eastern Rite Catholics by birth, this has been a great blessing for our family, as the Pastor there is a true Shepherd of his flock. I like to tell people that he gives the kind of sermons in which you feel like you’ve been hit in the head with a 2-by-4, and yet you thank him for it. Yes, Father doesn’t mince words. So I was looking forward to hearing what he would have to say in his sermon this past weekend. I was expecting fire and brimstone…but what I found instead was the healing I had been desperately seeking all week long. And I couldn’t help wanting to share his words with all of those who are suffering right now as a result of this ongoing scandal.
In the Eastern Rite, the first reading this past Sunday was 2 Corinthians 4, about treasure in earthen vessels (I strongly encourage everyone to read this entire chapter; it is as though it were written expressly for the current situation).
When Father came out to give his homily, he was holding a coffee mug, which he pretended to sip from. He held it up and said, “This is my favorite coffee mug. It’s made from clay, as you can see.” He went on to ask whether any of us would keep our most treasured or important possessions in a mug like this…a fragile thing which could be so easily…broken. Here he dropped the mug on the floor, where it shattered.
He picked up one of the pieces. This, he said, is us. It’s you, it’s me, it’s your priests, your bishops, your pope. Clay. Fragile. Not worthy to hold anyone’s greatest treasure. And yet God has chosen to put his greatest treasure into us. All of us. No exceptions. And why?
So that his power and glory might shine through it. So that there is no mistake: that what makes this vessel--or any other vessel--special, is not the clay, not the shape, but the presence of God’s grace working within it.
If our Pope and our Bishops fail us utterly, we have to remember that it’s because they are made of clay too. We revere them because of what they represent, but they are still men, and subject to corruption just like the rest of us--possibly even more so, because Satan constantly has them in his crosshairs.
But the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Though its parts are made up of all of us, weak and fragile and full of mistakes, this Mystical Body transcends all of us individually. Only as part of this Body can our weak earthen vessels receive that Grace that allows us to be more than merely clay.
When Christ spoke of man having no life within him unless we eat his body and drink his blood, many of His disciples left him. And no doubt in this current crisis, there will be many who will do the same. But if we read on, we find that after Jesus said this, He turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will you also go away?”
And Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
This is where we are now. Our leaders, the clay part of the Church, have failed us, betrayed us, disappointed us. But the Mystical Body remains, wounded though it is, and we must soldier on, each of us, individually. Popes will come and go, Cardinals and Bishops will come and go, and they may be good, and they may be evil. Satan may give it his best shot, and may win over many, many souls to his side, but Christ has promised us that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Church. He didn’t say they wouldn’t prevail against the Vatican and its occupants.His Mystical Body lives on within each of the faithful, no matter how many of its visible members have fallen away--and it is up to us to carry Him within us like living Monstrances, and bring Him to others, and to carry on the work of His Church, no matter what the mitred heads are doing (or not doing). By doing so, we show the wisdom of God, having invested his greatest treasure into these weak earthen vessels.
“For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.”(2 Cor 4:16-17)
I found this sermon to be so profoundly moving in the present circumstances that I had to leave the sanctuary for a few minutes and go have a good cry. I realized that this had been bottled up inside me all week without being able to be let out:I had been grieving deeply…now I needed to let the tears flow.
But what cemented Father’s words in my heart was the Communion Hymn that was sung later:
“A New Commandment I give to you: That you would love each
other, even as I have loved you.”
“By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for one another.”
Alas! Here we come to the true cross of Christianity! For no matter what horrible evil these men have done, and how they have dragged the Bride of Christ through the mud, God still loves them, and wants them to repent, and if we would be His disciples, we must love them also, even in their heinous sins. Even as Christ loved them: to the end. They are our fellow travelers in this vale of tears. Yes, Pope Francis and all of the prelates listed in the 11-page Viganò dossier, no matter how much you may cringe to pronounce their names. Fellow travelers.
Which brings us to Ephesians 4:
“Let all bitterness, and anger, and indignation, and clamour, and blasphemy, be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another; merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ.”
Ugh…I am still angry, and hurt, and outraged. And I don’t want to forgive those horrible people for what they’ve done and are continuing to do, unabashed. All the more so, because they are the ones who should be leading us toward our Heavenly home, not down the primrose path. And I can’t trust them to lead us going forward.
But I have to remind myself: God is going to call these men to account. “Revenge is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.”(Romans 12:19) It may be now, and it may be later. Perhaps adding my voice to those calling out for justice will make a difference, and perhaps it won’t. I will still raise my voice, because if I were silent, the stones would cry out. I won’t settle for agreeing, even tacitly, with those who would exonerate these men. But at the same time, I must constantly ask myself: is my voice raised in charity, or in rancor?
Because if the latter, then I sin against the Body of Christ.
“But the servant of the Lord must not wrangle: but be mild towards all men, apt to teach, patient, with modesty admonishing them that resist the truth: if peradventure God may give them repentance to know the truth, and they may recover themselves from the snares of the devil, by whom they are held captive at his will.” (2 Tim 2:24-26)
We must rein ourselves in a little.In our anger, frustration, and desperation to see the Church healed of its ills, we must allow the Divine Physician room to work. Thus what we need right now in the Church is less “bitterness, and anger, and indignation, and clamour,” and more of God’s Grace shining through those of us who love him with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind and our whole strength…and who love our neighbor as ourselves.
And so I snatched one of the pieces of that coffee mug out of the trash after Mass, and it sits now before me on my desk, as a reminder—to keep me from getting carried away again as all the fallout unfolds…or gets swept under the rug…these men, these horrible men…are…my…brothers…