The Boston Scandal: A Lenten Reflection

(Homily for Second Sunday of Lent, Year A)

Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. --G.K. Chesterton

On the Second Sunday of Lent, we always read one of the three Transfiguration accounts. The event gave Jesus' disciples a motive to hope in the face of what would become an increasingly hopeless situation. In spite of some immediate successes, dark clouds loomed. Shortly, they would journey to Jerusalem where their leader would be utterly humiliated. Jesus knew what was coming; they did not. So he gave them a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have felt gloomy these past weeks, watching a new scandal of priestly pederasty explode. It was discouraging not just because it happened in such a prominent archdiocese as Boston, but because for the last two decades almost all dioceses have worked out detailed procedures to protect children and teenagers. Even though the specific crimes happened quite a few years back, still, if one can credit the news reports, the cases were handled terribly. The scandal has unleashed a flood of hatred not just against the ones responsible, but church leaders in general.

A retired priest from another part of the country has been visiting an elderly couple in my parish. He offered to help out during the month he is here. Although I could surely use his help, I had to inform him he could not even concelebrate Mass until my bishop got a detailed testimonial letter from his bishop. We are all under a cloud – not a glorious one like in today’s Gospel.

Now, I am not claiming persecution. In this case we have only ourselves to blame. That of course makes the situation even gloomier.

In the midst of this and other troubles, I found myself looking for something upbeat. For me cheering news came from an unexpected quarter – the Academy Awards. They nominated a deeply Catholic movie for best picture and a dozen other awards. It was based on a novel by J.R.R. Tolkien who was a devout Catholic. In fact from age 12 a priest named Father Francis Morgan raised him and his brother. Although Lord of the Rings contains no explicit Christian references, Tolkien imbued his elaborate myth* with a profound vision of Divine Providence at work in the struggle between good and evil. (That "design" is summed up in today's second reading.) The novel tops several lists as the greatest book of the twentieth century. It looks like the movie trilogy will likewise rank very high.

The fantasy appeals not only for its technical excellence, but also for its vision. It centers on a beautiful golden ring which gives great power to the person who possesses it. But the power corrupts and becomes irresistable. Everything depends on the ring being taken to the one place it can be destroyed.

Although Tolkien was not writing an allegory, his fantasy describes our predicament. He shows the face of evil in its starkness. It ensnares quite ordinary folks, not just those on the fringe, like serial killers and pedophiles. It requires no great effort to spot evil in others, harder to see it in ourselves. It takes work to recognize the parasitic nature of evil, that it lives off the good - and that only the good possesses true substance. In his magnificent myth, Tolkien exposes that truth. In today's Gospel we glimpse the ultimate triumph of goodness.

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*Tolkien believed that a myth has the capacity to convey profound truths, to enable us to see the world with fresh attention, to cease taking things for granted. Tolkien played a role in C.S. Lewis' conversion by helping him understand that the story of Christ was the true myth at the very heart of history and at the very root of reality.

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Year A homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):

Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 2 (2014)
Sons of Abraham (2011)
Visit of Fr. Peter West (2008)
A Confrontation with Evil (2005)
The Boston Scandal: A Lenten Reflection (2002)
God or Gods of Culture? (1999)

Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")

2014: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 2
2013: Home of the Homesick
2012: Two Steps to Glory
2011: Sons of Abraham
2010: Freedom from False Gods
2009: A Glimpse of the Mystery
2008: Visit of Fr. Peter West
2007: Chosen
2006: Trust
2005: A Confrontation with Evil
2004: They Spoke of His Exodus
2003: Exposing a Modern Myth
2002: The Boston Scandal: A Lenten Reflection
2001: Voice from the Earthquake
2000: A Million Dollars for Your TV
1999: God or Gods of Culture?
1998: Enemies of the Cross

Homily for Transfiguration 2006: The Son of Man
..........2000: What Lies Beneath

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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In searching for the initial quote I came across some other Chesterton Quotes which offer food for thought:

Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable. - ILN, 10/23/09

All men thirst to confess their crimes more than tired beasts thirst for water; but they naturally object to confessing them while other people, who have also committed the same crimes, sit by and laugh at them. - ILN 3/14/08

There are some desires that are not desirable. - Orthodoxy

In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn. - The Speaker 2-2-01

the modern world (even while mocking sexual innocence) has flung itself into a generous idolatry of sexual innocence--the great modern worship of children. For any man who loves children will agree that their peculiar beauty is hurt by a hint of physical sex. (from Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton)

Letter from Former Catholic on Boston Priest Pedophilia Scandal

Answering Scandal With Personal Holiness by Fr. Roger Landry

Exorcism Requests Often Come from Practitioners of the Occult

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