Sunday, August 02, 2009

Original Sin

There but for the grace of God go I

That familiar proverb was spoken often in the seminary in the old days. In this YEAR FOR PRIESTS it is no less true now than ever before.

In the aftermath of the clergy sex scandal we now know there have been some spiritually dysfunctional priests and bishops and even a few truly bad, evil and rotten ones who either committed heinous immoral acts on innocent children OR who culpably ignored or covered up the problem. Yet, Church history has shown there have always been periods of great sanctity and piety and periods of decadence and degradation. Human history has shown that vile acts of evil have been done by parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, scoutmasters, doctors, neighbors, etc., as well as by members of the clergy or religious life (of every religion and denomination, too). While there can never be any excuse or toleration of child abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual or otherwise, sadly, it happens just as we see instances of rape, incest, and murder in every part of the planet being committed by rich and poor alike; believers and unbelievers. Scandal has no political or religious affiliation. It goes both left and right.

Yesterday, a 39 year old priest was murdered in India. Fr. James Mukalel was in the town of Mangalore in the Indian state of Karnataka. A dear friend of mine, Fr. Anthony Anthappa Mariappa from Bangalore has three parishes under his care. The rectory has electricity half a day and if he wants hot water to cook or take a bath, he needs to chop wood and throw it into the furnace. He had served in the USA for only a few years but I was and am impressed by his diligence, humility, dedication, piety and fraternal support. Please pray for him, his people and his nation. If every priest were more like Father Anthony, we would have less problems for sure. Please pray for the brave and courageous priests who are in danger in India, China and other places around the world.

Besides the obvious identification and removal of real or potential pedophiles and ephebophiles and the removal of heterodox dissidents, in this YEAR FOR PRIESTS we need to PREVENT future tragedies by praying for all priests, especially the most vulnerable, the weakest and most tempted. Ever see an electron microscope picture of a dust mite? Horrible looking creatures. Since they are invisible to the naked eye, we do not see them and what is not seen is often ignored and overlooked to our own peril. I am alergic to dust mites, I know.

All of us priests can and must work more aggressively to imitate the Cure of Ars, Saint John Vianney. Mediocrity is not an option and neither is heterodoxy or liturgical abuse. Bad theology + bad liturgy = bad morality. Yet, we must also include in the equation CONCUPISCENCE and a wounded, fallen human nature: both clergy and laity alike. If a priest or deacon sometimes shows rash judment or imprudent behavior, well, the same can be said of the first bishops, the Twelve Apostles. Clergy are as peccable as laity, hence we need to go to confession often and regularly. No one should rationalize their sins but acknowledge them, repent of them, confess them and do penance for them. During the golden years when Bing Crosby's Father O'Malley epitomized the typical parish priest, clergy were held up on a pedestal. That was our downfall because when you are on a pedestal, you can easily fall and be broken.

Vatican II taught that all vocations are good since they all come from God. Whether one is called to the priesthood, the diaconate, the religious life, married life or single state, ALL are good since all can lead you to heaven. Each vocation has its own source of grace to achieve its purpose, i.e., the sanctification of its adherents. It is not that priests are better than deacons or that bishops are better than priests or clergy better than laity, and so on. All vocations are equal in that sense. It is that the PRIESTHOOD itself is essential and necessary since it brings about the sacraments. The bishop has the FULLNESS of the priesthood as he can celebrate all seven sacraments. The priest has major share and the deacon a smaller portion. Nevertheless, it is the PRIESTHOOD (Holy Orders) which makes the Real Presence available via the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the PRIESTHOOD which makes the forgiveness of sins possible via Penance.

Your foot doctor or your dentist are both doctors and both go to medical school and when you have a toothache or an ingrown toenail, you NEED and WANT these medical healers to do their craft. The same goes for the heart or the brain surgeon. Yet, the critical importance of the heart and brain are such that WHAT the brain surgeon or the heart surgeon does is more important than what the other doctors do. That does not make the particular surgeon BETTER than the rest. It does mean that there a smaller margin of error and a greater responsibility on one more so than the other. Mistakes in one area are usually lethal whereas in the other they are almost always minor.

That being said, when priests preach heresy or teach dissent or show flagrant disobedience to the hierarchy, it is worse since we are expected to be spiritual 'fathers' who influence many souls. On the other hand, recall Peter denied Our Lord, Thomas doubted Him, and the rest were envious of James and John who themselves fell asleep when they were supposed to be praying with Jesus. Judas betrayed Him BUT would have been forgiven had he sought forgiveneness. Likewise, priests, deacons and bishops (and historically even a few popes) have occasionally given in to temptation and over indulged in drink; lost their temper; acted imprudently; rashly jumped to conclusions; spread gossip; had some impure or violent thoughts; etc. No, I am not making excuses but am stating the obvious that we are NOT impeccable, we are not perfect. We make mistakes, we commit sins. When we do, we must own up to it, confess it and do our best to avoid them in the future. Same goes for the religious. Ask any monk or nun, brother or sister what goes on in the monastery, friary or convent. The same that goes on in ever house, school and place of employment. Temptation is everywhere.

Bottom line is that when I was growing up, people overlooked the priest's weaknesses and often treated him with unnecessary privileges. Today, a backlash from the scandals has swung the pendulum in the opposite direction. Sometimes little or no consideration or empathy is given when a priest shows his human fraility and weakness. God forbid, if anyone, clergy, religious or lay is found guilty of abusing or taking advantage of a child or teenager, he or she should be swiftly and severely punished and prevented from ever doing it again. But what about the venial sins, the minor infractions, the small incidents of imprudent judgment? I am not saying these need to be overlooked or ignored.  But they are not the same caliber as those of the sex abusers. A pimple or blackhead is not the same as a tumor, be it benign or malignant. However, we live in a time when any and all blemishes are treated with equal disdain as those given to the latter.

Sanctity and holiness is the goal of all baptized Christians. Clergy NEED to teach by example. Since we are vulnerable, weak and have a wounded nature, we all need sacraments and the divine grace they provide. As I often tell parents, your children already know you are not the perfect mom or dad and there is no such thing as a perfect family BUT we can all do BETTER and BE better if we never stop trying to IMPROVE. Priests can and must seek, like John Vianney, to be better priests. Every day I must pray to be a better priest than I was yesterday and hopefully by God's grace will continue to do and be better today and tomorrow. The same goes for every Christian, every husband and wife; every brother and sister; every mother and father; every son and daughter. Pastors and parishioners can and must admit their shortcomings, their weaknesses and seek to do better. When one of us falls, we should all PRAY that he or she GET UP. The Virgin Mary told the children at Fatima to PRAY FOR THE CONVERSION of sinners.

In this YEAR FOR PRIESTS, let us pray for all priests, especially the bad ones that they see the error of their way and repent; for mediocre or lukewarm priests, that they renew and recover their original zeal and vigor; for the average and typical priest that he realize his limitations, that he overcome his weaknesses (by God's grace) and that he vigorously pursue holiness. If this happens, not only will we see more vocations, but we will see more realistic expectations from clergy and laity alike on each other. If this happens, the people can say to themselves, 'boy, if Fr. Jim can persevere, so can I.' Leadership and shepherding does come from watching from a distance on a pedestal. It comes from being IN FRONT on the frontline, in the trenches and in the thick of battle. John Vianney fought external demons, many of us priests battle our own inside but the point is that the demon must be FOUGHT. There is no room for compromise or surrender. Our people will respect and appreciate it when we honestly and humbly admit our mistakes while we simultaneously struggle AS THEY DO to overcome temptation and persevere in seeking holiness. Sainthood is not achieved until AFTER DEATH. Perfection is post mortem in heaven, not here on earth. But the moral and spiritual battle is fought every day.

When I was a child in Catholic school, we stood up whenever a priest or nun entered the room. There were some individual priests and nuns we liked and there were some we disliked, but we always stood up because of who they were not what they did. Respect and honor can and must be given to parenthood and to priesthood even though kids today there are no perfect moms or dads, no perfect pastors or parochical vicars. We need not shower people with unnecessary privileges so they are tempted to take advantage but at the same time, we need to show respect and to honor the institutions of parenthood and priesthood. Just as we would never call our mom or dad by their first name, so, too, priests should always be called by their title "Father". It is fine line and happy balance to not go to excess in giving privileges while at the same time being compassionate and patient with a fellow human being who shares our wounded human nature in the hopes that he will by God's grace overcome his frailties and faults and do better in the future.

Perhaps this YEAR FOR PRIESTS will make us all more realistic but also more hopeful than ever before about priesthood in general and about each priest individually. Maybe we can all pray for better priests and that all priests truly try and actually become better every day. Remember the parable of the weeds and the wheat.  Sometimes you must wait for harvest to distinguish the two and then one is burnt while the other is retained.

3 comments:

Sarah - Kala said...

I commit to praying for all priests. This was so well timed for me in particular. I never thought of any priest as above his humanity, but I do believe priests/the office of the priesthood needs to be respected more than it is. God bless you, Father. You have my prayers.

NC Sue said...

I blogged about this today as well, encouraging people to pray daily for our priests. I posted a very simple, brief prayer that may be helpful. See http://acts17verse28.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-have-you-brought-this-trouble-on.html.

Thanks and God bless you!

Victoria said...

Fr Trigilio, you are a very wise man and a good and holy priest. I have copied a number of your posts both to reflect on and share with friends.

Thank you for your priesthood.

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