Secret Acts Made Public

(Homily for Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

Jesus tells us that soon all secrets will be made public. He even seems to encourage us to take part in the process. “What you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” (Mt 10:27)

We Americans, more than any other society, have fulfilled these words. A few years back, a government agency spent forty millions dollars to investigate and publish intimate details about the president. Locally, Seattle newspapers printed a priest's picture, along with prurient accounts of his failings some two decades ago.

Dark secrets have been exposed to all, including small children. But is that really what Jesus had in mind?

I think not – for at least two reasons. First, they missed these men’s greatest sins. As much as their crimes repulse us, there are worse things to report. Now, I am not claiming inside knowledge about Bill Clinton or my priest friend. I know this because, for thirty years, people have told me their miseries in the sacrament of reconciliation. Everyone has worse things in their account than what a newspaper can summarize.

Second, we might wonder why the spotlight has been focused on these men? For sure, their acts were reckless and imprudent. They have no one to blame but themselves. And yet… And yet, someday, all of us – accusers and accused – will have our lives exposed to such a searching light.

I am not trying to promote relativism.* No, if we could see our smallest sin for what it truly is, we would feel more revulsion for it than we presently do for the horrible acts of betrayal we have read about in recent months. Perhaps because of all this, we can begin to glimpse the duplicity and cruelty involved in every sin.

Jennifer Morse had an excellent column entitled Let the Sexual Counter-Revolution Begin. She states:

“The scandals of priests not living their vows of celibacy provide an opportunity to revisit some of the long-held assumptions of the sexual revolution.” Among the myths she examines are:

--“Sex is just a natural bodily function.”

--“Sex is purely private.” (For full article, see National Catholic Register, June 16)

I know that many want to say all this is really not about sex, but something else: betrayal of trust, unequal power, dishonesty. But those are the very things which make every use of sex outside of marriage wrong.**

Jesus warns that the whole world will know what we have done. But he adds, twice, “Do not be afraid.” Obloquy, public shame, might bring a good result: repentance, humility. Don’t be afraid of what other sinful men might say or think about you – or do to you.

“Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Mt 10:28) Both the Jerome Biblical Commentary and the Navarre Bible concur that “the one” is God. We should only fear God – not in some cringing sense, but because separation from him would involve such misery that any physical pain would seem small by comparison.

That horrendous possibility has a flip side. You were made for God. Only he can satisfy your relentless longings. You possess a worth “more than many sparrows.” Now is the time to acknowledge Jesus before others so he will acknowledge you before the Father.


*Our culture tends to slide into relativism, but in a harsh form. Two speakers at the recent bishops conference summed up the dilemma: Dr. Scott Appleby noted "we live in a culture which permits everything and forgives nothing." Later, Cardinal George commented that our culture is both "self-righteous and decadent."

**As I mentioned last week, this crisis has its roots in dissent from Jesus' teaching - especially regarding sexual morality. A question: Why have bishops promised to end secrecy regarding sex abuse cases, while allowing theologians to keep secret the mandatum (certification that they teach authentic Catholic theology)? To quote journalist John Leonard, "There are too many ironies in the fire."

Versión Castellana

From Archives:

Twelfth Sunday, Year A, 2008: The Ugly Truth
2005: A Bishop's Hidden Life
2002: Secret Acts Made Public

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Homily for Quinceañera Mass (also sample Ritual)

Fr. Armando Perez (Ordained June 8, 2002)

The New (York Times) Catholic Church by Michael Novak

The Catholic Difference by George Weigel