Bottom line: God allows temptations and trials to combat pride, to bring us to humility. The devil on the other hand wants to lead to despair - to throw away the greatest treasure God gives.
This summer we received a nice gift: a small book titled Letter to a Suffering Church. In it Bishop Robert Barron addresses the clergy abuse scandal from a spiritual viewpoint. He begins by describing the scandal as a "diabolical masterpiece". When you consider the level of devastation it's hard not to see that the devil orchestrated these hideous sins.
What's the devil's game? Peter Blatty addresses that question in The Exorcist. You might know Blatty is a faithful Catholic. He did a lot of research before writing the Exorcist. He based his book on an actual case of of demonic possession. In his book someone asks the exorcist, "Why this girl? It makes no sense." Fr. Merrin replies, "I think the point is to make us despair - to see ourselves as animal and ugly - to reject our humanity - to reject the possibility God could ever love us".
Something similar applies to the clergy abuse scandal. The whole thing is so foul it has made people despair and reject the Church.
When tempted to despair a person needs to turn to God's Word, the Bible. Bishop Barron does that by devoting a chapter to "Light from Scripture".
Besides Scripture we need something else: a sense of history. When I was in the seminary many men were leaving the priesthood. Our seminary rector said something that has stuck with me. "The priests who leave," he said, "lack a sense of history". At first this seemed puzzling, but it makes more and more sense. Bishop Barron has a chapter on Church history titled "We have been here before".
He then asks the crucial question: Why should we stay? Well, as Bishop Barron argues, to leave the Church means to discard a treasure. It's like throwing away diamonds because the bag holding them has become smelly. No, wash the bag. It's the only one God has given us to hold that incalculable treasure: his teaching, his sacraments, the very Communion of Saints.
In the final chapter Bishop Barron outlines the way forward. We don't need to discard God's gift even though he uses weak, sinful humans to transmit that treasure.
The way forward above all involves prayer. Last week I made a retreat at a monastery in Canada - so inspiring to see young men who have dedicated their lives to prayer. That's the way forward. Today Jesus teaches us to practice bold, unrelenting prayer - persistence, even to the point of shamelessness. Filial trust - we dare to call God our Father. If we ask for a fish or egg, he will not give us something harmful. In fact, everything that happens fits his plan and purpose.
Parents - despite their faults - give good gifts to their children. How much more will the Father give better gifts? Even the Holy Spirit.
To move forward we need the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit we cannot find the way. We cannot even pray; the Holy Spirit prays in us.
In confession the absolution prayer says that the Father sends the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. The only condition, Jesus says, is that we forgive those in debt to us.
Sometimes people will say, "I am a forgiving person but what he did is unforgivable." No. For sure we may have to separate from some person, especially to protect children - as we do by removing from ministry a priest who has abused a child or youth. Even so, we cannot ignore Jesus crystal clear words connecting God's forgiveness with our forgiving those who trespass against us.
And we say, lead us not into temptation - preserve us from an unendurable trial. At Priest Days Archbishop Sartain spoke about how sometimes the ridicule seems relentless.* Then he said, "People ridicule us. So what? They did that to Jesus."
The final petition says, "deliver us from evil". Yes, we have seen the power of the evil one. He has brought us low. All the more reason to turn to the Father. Next week we will see powerful reasons to turn to God.
For today remember this. God allows temptations and trials to combat pride, to bring us to humility, to reliance on God, to prayer. The devil on the other hand wants to lead to despair - to throw away the greatest treasure God gives. For that reason we pray, "deliver us from evil." Amen.
*Any time the Archbishop would teach on a tough issue, a choir of people would throw the abuse scandal in his face. We saw that kind of mindless attack when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming that God created us male and female.
How John Paul Bent the Course of History (Audio version of homily for 16th Sunday, Cycle C - 2016)
From Archives (Homilies for Seventeenth Sunday, Year C):
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*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
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)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru