Religion That is Pure and Undefiled Before God
“From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
Our Lord confronts today a group of religious leaders, the Pharisees, who have a serious problem. On the outside, they look great. They follow all the rules and are respected by many people. But, He says, their hearts are far from God, and their worship of Him is in vain.
Sound familiar? I bet. St. Paul speaks to us today about “religion that is pure and undefiled before God,” and it seems a bit ironic today, doesn’t it? Our religion, these past few weeks, has seemed anything <em>but</em> pure and undefiled.
What are we going to do about these false shepherds of our own day whose hearts are far from God? The most popular solution seems to be, “they should all resign.” That proposal received a significant boost this week when a retired archbishop who has held offices that have given him access to a vast array of information about the present scandal, claimed that the cover-up over the abuse of Cardinal McCarrick goes all the way to Pope Francis and called on him and a dozen other cardinals to resign.
I do not know if Archbishop Viganó’s claims are true or not. I hope that they will be seriously investigated. But I have to wonder, is a bunch of bishops resigning really going to make a difference? Yes, there absolutely should be accountability for the shepherds who have failed their flocks, but who is going to take their place? Will this really get to the root of the crisis?
The solution to the present crisis is absolutely not that bishops be better politicians or CEOs. Remember: this is not a crisis of leadership, but of holiness, and holiness, as Christ states, is about what is within.
Out of the greatest times of crisis in the Church’s history have come some of Her greatest saints. In the middle ages, in the time of a great moral decadence, St. Francis and St. Dominic founded religious orders to renew holiness among the clergy and among the people. When the Pope abandoned Rome in order to become a pawn of the French king, a seemingly inconsequential woman from Siena, St. Catherine, courageously called him back.
After the Protestant Revolution – I won’t call it a “reformation” because you can’t reform the Church if you leave it – saints like St. Cajetan, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Teresa of Avila started new orders or reformed old ones to bring people back to an authentic sense of holiness.
My favorite example of a great saint who came from a time of crisis is St. Charles Borromeo. When his uncle became pope, he named Charles a cardinal. It was literally nepotism – <em>nepote </em>means nephew in Latin. At the age of 23. Charles’s family expected him to use his position to help them get even richer, but he refused. Instead, he worked himself to death by the age of 46, tirelessly fighting for reform in the Church – corruption turned into holiness and even sainthood.
These great men and women became saints not just because of their heroic deeds, but because they started with themselves. St. Catherine of Siena did not just wake up one day and decide to write a scathing letter to the Pope. Rather, she was animated by a deep love for the Church as Christ’s body. She – like all the other great reformers – started her reform by reforming herself. The saints did severe penances and sacrificed all material comforts in order to have the strength to root sin out of their lives. Only then could they help others to live the Gospel with authenticity and zeal.
This is not the first crisis the Church has weathered. It will also not be the last. The fire that is currently raging in the Church is a purifying fire, and we must not merely snuff it out from fear. But we want things to be different this time. How?
Like the saints, we must begin by looking at ourselves. You have the right to holy shepherds who will not abandon the flock to the wolves. But where will they come from? Where will we get these new, holier, more determined and steadfast priests and bishops? There is only one possible place: from our parishes and from our families. Right here and right now, this parish can begin the process of rebuilding our beloved Church by raising up the men who will lead Her with a passion for righteousness and truth.
You have a right to priests who are humble. From within people comes arrogance, and it defiles. Insist, rather, that your shepherds be humble. Insist that they live their promise of simplicity of life by being faithful to the directive of canon law that they always appear in public wearing clerical attire rather than the garb of those stained by the world, and by modeling love for the poor. Teach your sons to be humble. Don’t feed their delusions that they are the most important person in the world, but insist that they sacrifice for others.
You have a right to priests who are honest. From within people comes deceit, and it defiles. Insist, rather, that your shepherds be honest. If you want bishops and priests with the integrity never to cover for abusers, insist also that they never be afraid to tell you the truth. Don’t make threats that lead them to soften the Church’s teaching so that you will get what you want, but be prepared to accept the truth of the Gospel in its fullness. Likewise, teach your sons to be honest. Teach them that no lie is okay, even if it keeps someone’s feelings from getting hurt.
You have a right to priests who are chaste. From within people comes unchastity and adultery, and they defile. Insist, rather, that your shepherds be chaste. Don’t make silly excuses for the present crisis like, “this would be solved by letting them get married.” Support them when they set reasonable boundaries for the time they can spend with you. Likewise, teach your sons to be chaste. Don’t avoid the topic of chastity because it is embarrassing. Teach them disciple and self-sacrifice, that their bodies are a sacred gift for authentic manhood that does not see in their bodies and in others merely a tool for their own gratification. Guard their hearts from the poison of impurity that is leaching into their souls through the technological devices that <em>you yourself </em>have probably given them.
You have a right to priests who are men of prayer. Prayer has the power to combat and conquer all the evils that come from within and defile. Insist that your priests be men of prayer. Insist that they offer Holy Mass in a way that makes clear that they are offering a Sacrifice on your behalf. Don’t expect that they be a game show host who is here to entertain you for an hour, and if that’s the way they celebrate Mass, make it clear that you’re not interested. Do not begrudge their need for silent encounter with their closest friend, Christ Jesus, present in the Eucharist that they bring about on the altar for the salvation of your soul. Jesus is not just an ephemeral reality, somewhere up there in the sky. He is real and concrete, right here and present among us in the Eucharist. We need priests and future priests with a deep love for Christ in the Eucharist that they express through their reverence. Likewise, teach your sons to be men of prayer. Model authentic prayer for them. Take them to Adoration on Thursday evenings, then go out for ice cream and talk about what that time of prayer means to you. Hold them accountable for praying on their own.
You have a right to holy priests and bishops. But don’t give up even on those who are slacking. Your prayer – especially your time spent with the Lord in His real presence here in the Eucharist – has the power to soften even the hardest hearts – those yet to be convinced of the gravity of the crisis we face, or those who remain silent, like the Pope whose only response to the serious accusations made against him is to say, “I will not say a single word about this.” When we fail, call us out – respectfully, giving us the opportunity to respond personally. Hold us accountable.
Especially hold us accountable for our love for Christ in the Eucharist. I want to return to the words of Christ to that anonymous monk that I quoted two weeks ago: “It is because I am left alone in the Sacrament of My love that such darkness has fallen over the souls of My priests. … The hour has come for priests to hear My appeal and to return, penitent and joyful, to the foot of My altars” (<em>In Sinu Jesu</em>, p. 216-217). On our parish website, with the text of this sermon, you can find a prayer for offering an hour of adoration and reparation even when you cannot come to church because of your busy daily schedule with the intention that at least one priest return to the Tabernacle where Christ waits for him today.
When our priests and bishops return to Christ in the Eucharist, when we insist that they be humble, honest, and chaste, and when we likewise form the sons of our parish to be so as well, and to have a deep, reverential love for Christ in the Eucharist, then we will have “religion that is pure and undefiled before God.”
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen XXII Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXVIII
A prayer for those who would offer one hour of adoration and reparation at home, at work, in the hospital, in prison, or while travelling:
Lord Jesus Christ, although I cannot, during this hour, approach Thee physically in the Sacrament of Thy love, I would approach Thee by desire and by faith. Transport me, I beseech Thee, by the lifting up of my mind and heart, to that tabernacle in the world where Thou art, at this hour, most forsaken, utterly forgotten, and without human company.
Let the radiance of Thy Eucharistic Face so penetrate my soul that by offering Thee adoration and reparation, even as I am busy doing ordinary things in an ordinary way, I may obtain from Thy Sacred Heart the return of at least one priest to the Tabernacle where Thou waitest for him today. Amen.