Not everyone always agrees with my writings, imagine that. Actually, if they did that would be rather boring. And so, some did take issue with my assessment in my letter, “An Unexpected Journey”, as being too loud, not speaking softly and rather acerbic. I accept that criticism. At the same time after putting in over 30yrs of serving and building up the Church I love, I find it hard not to come to its defense. It’s not just that the Church is a force for good in the world that I want to see continue as such but the salvation of souls hangs in the balance. Each priest, each bishop will be heldaccountable for the souls lost due to scandal and confusion. Therefore, speaking up so that people know that the ecclesiastical bureaucracy is not the Church nor is it a way to determine the veracity of the teachings of Catholicism appears to me to be a necessary action.
This is certainly not the first time in the history of the Church that we have had corrupt leaders, they come and go and this crop of ersatz leaders will reap their consequences someday. The more challenging part for pastors is the confusion and ambiguity that seems to be a persistent theme coming from Vatican officials. Grant it, maybe part of the murkiness is due to the contrast with the clear and precise teachings of both Popes Benedict and John Paul II or even the amplification that comes from social media and the internet blogs but whatever the source, the confusion surrounds the teaching on Marriage, Divorce and Human Sexuality in general.
These are challenging teachings in a culture that stresses “anything goes as long as it doesn't hurt anyone”. Those of us who have tried to uphold the consistent teachings of the Church on these matters know how difficult they are for people to accept and try to live out. This is especially true for those who have had messed up marriages and painful divorces. Often, they remarry, not knowing the implications for a baptized Catholic. Once they do come to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage and try to have their marriage regularized in the Church, the annulment process is often long and cumbersome.
Many of those in invalid marriages stick with a process that can take years, agree to live chastely, actually celibate until their marriage can be validated in the Church. Many simply refuse to remarry. Then there are those who struggle with same-sex attraction and do their best to live chastely. When it comes to the teaching on the Regulation of Births, many couples practice Natural Family Planning, which bears great fruit in a marriage but is very challenging, requiring a lot of discipline. Then there are those who chose to bring a child to full-term all the while being pressured to abort.
As a pastor, what am I supposed to say to these Catholics who embrace the teaching of the Church at great personal cost and sacrifice? “Well, now none of that matters because the Vatican wants the Church to be “nice, tolerant, accepting, regardless?” “What you’ve done is all for naught?” Believe me, every pastor would like to make it easier for people to fix these situations and we work hard to find pastoral solutions for every unique situation. But none of us have a magic wand and the teachings of the Gospels are not based on a popular vote. “Everyone’s doing it” is not a justification for sin.
So instead we as pastors, try to walk with those who struggle and find themselves in lifestyles that are not consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Through that struggle, many come to a deeper spirituality and stronger commitment to Christ. Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a Field Hospital is spot on. We are all sinners, sick people in need of the Divine Physician. Some of us need a band-aid, others need serious surgery. Whichever, the Church is theplace for all of us to be. Accepting Jesus’ prescription, “take up your Cross and follow me”, and taking every dose of the medicine of grace will bring us all healing and salvation, even if at times it is hard to swallow.
For now, we prepare for the Birth of Christ. He comes no matter the pastor, bishop or Pope, is a saint, scoundrel or scoffer. Remember, Jesus was born into a broken world, in a decrepit stable, hardly a place for a child, yet alone the Savior to be birthed. So, he comes again into a broken Church, to a wounded people and a fractured leadership. Yet, he comes no matter the conditions. Still, he comes.
Fr. John B.