Can The Church Save Itself?

(Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A)

This Sunday I begin with a public confession. (Don’t worry. It’s a small one.) When I am waiting at the supermarket checkout, I scan the covers of the tabloids. They always offer enticing bits of gossip about Bill and Hillary Clinton or some Hollywood star.

Recently one of the magazines had an image of the pope holding his head in his hands, along with the words, “Can the Catholic Church Save Itself?” Obviously it referred to the terrible child sex abuse scandal which has filled the media these past four months.

Later I thought about the question, Can the Catholic Church Save Itself? The answer of course is “no.” Today Jesus uses a comparison which makes that crystal clear. His Church is like a flock of sheep. Among farm animals they are the most helpless on their own.

When I was in Peru, I had the opportunity to observe sheep and shepherds up close. They protected their animals from outside dangers – like cars, predatory animals and thieves. But the biggest threat was within the flock itself. To kill parasites, the shepherds periodically pushed the sheep through chemically treated baths. Then they forced medicine down their throats to take care of intestinal worms.

The sheep protested, but later would come running back to the shepherd when he called. Sheep seem to know something we forget: We cannot make it apart from the Shepherd. If we leave the sheepfold, a danger - external or internal - will soon overcome us.

Some have told me the recent scandals have tried their faith, that they are thinking of leaving the church. In one case I knew the person well enough to say, “Come on, girl, you weren’t doing so great before the scandals broke.” But most of the time I have limited myself to pointing out that Jesus chose human beings, not angels, to visibly shepherd his church. We can – and should – install the best safeguards possible, especially to protect children and teenagers. But ultimately it depends on the human shepherds who oversee the flock. What a heavy responsibility they have!

This has been a awful week for the Archdiocese of Seattle. For me personally it was horrible to see supposed transgressions of a dear friend splashed over the news. I don’t know if the accusations are accurate or distorted. I do know this: our current environment of gossip poses a spiritual danger for the rest of us. We can start focusing on the other person’s offenses. We might do it with a sigh or with a snicker, but the result is the same. It distances us from the flock – and from the Shepherd himself.

The first person to shepherd the church in Jesus' name had this to say: “Repent…every one of you.” (Acts 2:38) The only way we can pass through gate and enter the sheepfold is not by denouncing others, but by humbly acknowledging our own offenses.


Spanish Version

From Archives (Fourth Easter - Year A):

2014 Homily: Journey to Hope Week 4
2011: Open the Door
2008: Door We Never Opened
2005: A Good Shepherd
2002: Can The Church Save Itself?
2000: Jesus' Job Description
1999: Where are the Shepherds?

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies

Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)

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Fr. Brad's Homilies: great listening - I particularly enjoyed his series on the seven sacraments

letter from Archbishop Sartain: "Stephanie gave me a medal and a necessary lesson in discipleship. With the spontaneity, freedom, and love of a child of God, she taught me something invaluable about my need for detachment. Not clinging to something precious to her, something that signaled the height of her personal accomplishments, she freely gave – and her face radiated joy. Do I so freely give of myself, so joyfully surrender my attachments?"

my bulletin column(May 15, 2011)

9 Myths about Priestly Pedophilia

From John: Invitation to a Month of Abstinence to Save Priesthood & Church

Statements from Archbishop Brunett

Bulletin (Seattle Times Reveals Names of Accused Priests, Trip to Peru Postponed)


The Church Under Fire -- How Much Is Fair?

Parish Picture Album

(April 2011)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album


MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru