This blog post is a homily given to the “Associates” today. These are men discerning the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be”. I’ve always liked this very accurate assessment of things, and not only do I think it to be true; I know it. Not just for the United States, but for Canada and for everywhere in the world. I know it not only because I’ve encountered it in the parishes I’ve ministered in, but I know it’s even something I meet with men discerning, in seminaries and among priests. And before you hear this as a striking condemnation or my pointing the finger at any one of you (I’m not) – I have been and often am guilty of doing the same. Before it appears that any one of us are villains in this way, I would add that the Apostles and disciples were often guilty of holding misperceptions and untruths as dear to them too – not just the Pharisees. And it doesn’t always make itself as manifest as hating the Church. The very same lack of understanding or holding of mistruths can lead us to hold an “us versus them” mentality of believing that part of what we are doing is saving the Church from its people or that we are saving these people from things that they quite truthfully are not going to be saved from by us.
What I mean by this, is that there are many who see the key role of the priest is to safeguard the sacraments from the people who I presume are abusing them. Brothers, we are all in need of saving, surely my saying hasn’t escaped any of you. Although certainly in the history of our Catholic Church there have been moments when we have held on tightly to the title “defenders of the faith” and there are times when it seems we have to defend our faith to others more than we would wish to – but our Lord requires us first and always most importantly to live it out. To live by what He calls us to. To look at the Sacraments as Gifts of Love and Mercy; that which they are.
In the Gospel today, it’s fairly apparent that Jesus is misunderstood even by those closest to Him. He is out of His mind! Misunderstanding follows our Lord everywhere He goes. Among His family & relative, among His friends, the Apostles. Certainly we have to be careful because among us as His friends, disciples and through the Holy Priesthood assistants to the Apostles – we too, all of us are prone and susceptible to being wrong, sometimes more than we are right. To being defensive when we should be compassionate. To being uncomfortable with being loving & merciful when it will make us appear weak. Again and again, Jesus appears weak and I think this is why He is so misunderstood and perceived wrongly because it’s so very easy for us to have an incorrect notion of what strength really is. We all need to think about that. I’m sure that we can think about people who have strength of character, strength of faith, strength of persistence in love and showing compassion and mercy. These are not necessarily the same kinds of things we think of when we think of strength.
Brothers, it might be nice for us to imagine that with some of the attacks we can see upon our Church even today, upon Christians even today that we utilize our “army” of Catholic Christians, said to be 1.2 billion worldwide to defend Holy Mother Church. And I know that there is and will continue to be a current of belief that we should exercise a show of force this way. But the show of force we should exercise, and which I hope is the show of force all of us here desire to show – is a show of the power of our love for everyone; enemy & friend alike. A show of mercy, if God willing you’re called to the Holy Priesthood, to be a compassionate and merciful confessor, but to offer forgiveness always, inside and outside of the confessional. A show of force in how we pray for all, for one another, for what’s best for each other. Compassion, love, patience, kindness and dedication to the “least”. I can assure you that if you begin to exercise these kinds of things in your life, if this becomes your message, our message – there will be some, many even who think “he’s out of his mind”, just as they did our Lord. But rest assured you are doing His work.
This is what the Catholic Church is about. This is what we as members must allow to be our show of force; commitment to prayer, lived out in compassion, love, mercy and we must give ourselves totally and completely for that.