Thursday, June 13, 2002

My Homily from Last Night's Opening Mass for the Prayer Vigil for Holiness:

Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit
Joel 3:1-5
Romans 8:22-27
John 7:37-39

The Lord said to Joel: "I will pour out my spirit on all mankind." The spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has indeed been given to the Church. We are no longer like the disciples in that upper room: hiding, afraid, unsure of what to do. The Holy Spirit was given to the disciples, and they went out of that room as apostles, to preach the Gospel to the world. They were no longer afraid, but were emboldened. They were no longer unsure of what to do, because they had been inflamed with zeal. They preached in the face of opposition and persecution, because they had unshakeable knowledge of the Truth. And the same Holy Spirit which inflamed and emboldened the disciples has been passed on, through their successors, to us.

So if this is true, if we have the Holy Spirit, then how, many of you have no doubt asked yourselves, did we get to this point? How is it that we have to gather here tonight, to pray for our Church, and especially our bishops, who have failed us so terribly? I believe the answer lies in our reading from the prophet Joel. Joel says, "your old men shall dream dreams." What happened is that our "old men", our shepherds, stopped dreaming dreams. They stopped dreaming dreams of righteousness; they stopped dreaming dreams of holiness; they stopped dreaming dreams of the kingdom of God. Instead, they became enamored of other dreams: dreams of being favorably covered on the TV news; dreams of having their op-ed pieces published in the New York Times; dreams of being invited to testify before Congress; dreams of a new Cathedral, very modern and "up to date", designed by an avant-garde architect. They began dreaming the dreams of the world.

But if we stop there, we're not telling the whole story. Because, in many cases, those old men adopted the new dreams of the world because that's what we wanted them to do. We didn't want to hear about holiness: if we were holy, our neigbors would think we were weird; if we were righteous, people would call us "narrow-minded". If we put our hearts and minds wholly on the Kingdom of God, people would say we're not "relevant". If we are wondering how our bishops became so muddled and corrupt, look around: the World is muddled and corrupt.

We call our bishops "shepherds". And the chief job of a shepherd is to protect his flock, to safeguard his sheep. The bishops' failure to protect the most vulnerable members of their flock has its roots in a deeper and more serious failure: The bishops have failed to protect us from the World. No indeed, they let the world into the Church: The world said we needed to be more "open", more "tolerant", and we listened. We have been toying with just how much we can let the world into the Church. We have been playing with, experimenting with, just how much we can accommodate ourselves to sin. All too often, our shepherds were leading the way. The bishops allowed the boundary between the world and the Kingdom, the world and the Church, to become obscured. Not necessarily because they were bad men, most of them had the best intentions. But they were listening to the wrong voice, dreaming the wrong dreams. Because they were dreaming the wrong dreams, listening to the wrong voices, they lost that boldness and unshakable knowledge of the Truth that so characterized the Apostles. Our bishops have become like shepherds that allowed the fence around the sheepfold to be trampled and knocked down.

And even now, as their failure and its consequences become more and more starkly apparent, the temptation to listen to the world dies hard. There are many voices out there clamoring with this or that solution to the problem. "If only we adopted this set of guidelines," some say. "If only we allowed priests to marry," others say. "If only we turned perpetrators over to the authorities," say others, "then everything would be OK." But all of these policies and suggestions are just smoke and mirrors. What we need is not a policy, what the bishops need is not rules. What we need, as Amy Welborn, a Catholic writer, recently said, is for the bishops to just STOP IT. They need to stop listening to the world and start listening to the Holy Spirit.

Even the talk of "zero tolerance" is another red herring. "Zero Tolerance" may be a good slogan for a Mothers Against Drunk Driving billboard, but is a slogan a substitute for bishops acting like shepherds? Zero Tolerance has nothing to do with the Gospel or the Tradition. Zero Tolerance is more worldspeak.

The one consistent thing the bishops have been doing is listening to the world. First the world said we need to be more "tolerant". And they listened. Then, when they began to see problems, the world said, "You need to listen to the psychologists, they'll help you become 'better adjusted'". And the bishops listened to the psychologists. Then, when things started to really go bad, and people got angry, the world said, "you'd better listen to the lawyers." The bishops listened to the lawyers, and now things are in a complete mess.

Now, when the bishop's failure (and let's not forget, it's our failure too) has been made manifestly obvious, the world says "Zero Tolerance." And the bishops seem to be listening to that now. Will they, will we, ever learn? No committee, no policy, no law, is a substitute for holiness and fidelity to Christ. When a slogan is proposed as the solution to a problem, it's the world speaking. We need Shepherds, not policies.

It may seem presumptuous, maybe even arrogant, that I, a priest who has been ordained for less than a year, would speak of the bishops in this way. But I was a Catholic long before I became a priest, and I often wondered what it was going to take to shake us out of our infatuation with the World. I fear that God is allowing us to take some very bitter medicine indeed. The time for speaking in this way is long past.

We are gathered here tonight to pray: to pray for our Church and for our Bishops. Make no mistake, they need our prayers. Many of them have to re-learn, and some learn for the first time, the office of Shepherd. They have gathered in Dallas to debate crucial matters. They will debate policies, and we need policies. They will debate guidelines, and we need guidelines. They will debate canon law, and we need canon law. But more than anything else, they, and we, need to be on our knees. All of their meetings, debates, and polices will matter not at all if they are not united, as we shortly will be, around Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We must pray that they will open themselves up to hear the voice of Christ. We must pray that the Holy Spirit would inflame them with courage and zeal. We must pray that they, and we, will repent and offer acts of Reparation. We must pray that they will heed the voice of the Spirit, and begin again to dream the dreams and see the visions that God is trying to give them.