Diabolical Masterpiece

(July 21, 2019)

Bottom line: While rightly condemning abuses of power, we can also see how pride creeps into our own lives. Like Martha we can becoming preoccupied with ourselves and what we are doing - and miss the big picture.

This summer we are on a road trip with this destination: Jerusalem. On the way Jesus sends out disciples to gather people to himself. "The harvest is abundant," he says, "but the laborers are few".

Disciple making involves work, but not frenetic activity. Jesus takes time to pray, sometimes hours at a time. He also accepts hospitality. As we see today, two sisters, both beautiful and good, but with their weaknesses: Mary perhaps a little indolent. Martha on the other hand, agitated, perhaps a bit hyper.

Jesus gives Martha a mild rebuke. "Martha, Martha," he says, "you are anxious and worried about many things". Martha seems too involved in herself and what she is doing. She misses the big picture. Her hyperactivity is a form of pride. Not pride like we saw last week - the smug superiority of the scribe, but pride nonetheless. Of all sins pride is the worst because it sets us against each other - and against God. Remember what C.S. Lewis said: "each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride."

God goes to great lengths to combat pride. As we saw a few weeks ago he allows temptations and trials. In that context I want to address the greatest trial we have faced in the American Catholic Church. You know what I mean: the scandal of clergy abuse of children and young people.

There have been thousands of articles and books about this crisis but few have put the scandal in a spiritual context. Well, we have a great gift this summer. Bishop Robert Barron has written a book titled "Letter to a Suffering Church". He describes the scandal as a "diabolical masterpiece". This language surprises some people. They have come to think of the devil as a literary device, a symbol for evil.

Bishop Barron responds that "the storm of wickedness that has compromised the work of the Church in every way and that has left countless lives in ruin is just to ingenious to have been the result of impersonal forces alone or merely human contrivance...in the ordinary run of history bad things happen but this scandal is too exquisitely designed".

This scandal, Bishop Barron says, "has corroded Catholic credibility so completely that the Church's work in evangelization, catechesis, preaching, outreach to the poor, recruitment of vocations, and education has been crippled. And most terribly, members of the Church, especially the most vulnerable have been forced to live through a nightmare from which it seems impossible to wake."

In calling this a "diabolical masterpiece" Bishop Barron is not implying that human beings have no responsibility. As he says, "the devil works typically through suggestion, insinuation, temptation and seduction. He is essentially powerless until he finds men and women who will cooperate with him."

After the opening chapter showing how the devil has orchestrated this scandal, Bishop Barron considers the scandal in light of Scripture and Church history. Then he addresses the fact that the crisis has tempted many to pull away from or leave the Church. He argues that "there is simply never a good reason to leave the Catholic Church". I'll talk more about that in coming weeks.

For today we recognize that at root the scandal involves the sin of pride. It has been rightly identified as a widespread abuse of power. We see that in the McCarrick corruption. We see it detailed in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Bishop Barron analyzes those horrific sins in his Letter to a Suffering Church. Now, for us: while rightly condemning abuses of power, we can also see how pride creeps into our own souls. Like Martha we can becoming preoccupied with ourselves and what we are doing - and miss the big picture. We do need to be more like Mary. As Jesus says, "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."


How John Paul Bent the Course of History (Audio version of homily for 16th Sunday, Cycle C - 2016)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Sixteenth Sunday, Year C):

2016: Becoming a Disciple Week 7: Listen & Learn
2013: Focus in Mission - Part Three
2010: The Difference Between Martha and Mary
2007: Being in the Lord's Presence
2004: Five-Legged Dogs
2001: Hospitality - First Principle of the Moral Law
1998: The Better Part

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Ordinary Time leading up to Lent*

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)

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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru