So this is not the actual homily I gave this weekend. I never actually finished it on Saturday night; I just had to walk away because I couldn’t do it anymore. Sunday morning was easier, but I left my guard up too much, I think. I can’t really explain it. I also amended it for Mass at the Newman Center, just because it was a much smaller crowd and a very different dynamic. Anyway, this is a close approximation of what I said, or at least of what was – is – on my heart…
This is, without a doubt, the hardest homily I’ve had to give in my short time as a priest.
But then again, this has been the hardest week of my priesthood, too.
By now, I’m sure you’ve all read – or are at least very aware of – the Grand Jury report that was issued earlier this week. They warned us it would be bad; but it was worse than that; it was devastating.
There were a lot of names in that report that are familiar to people in this area. There were a lot of names in that report that were familiar to me. One of them was pastor of my home parish when I was a kid. He’s not the reason I became a priest, but I still thought of him as a role model. When I had heard, years ago, that he was accused of something, I didn’t – I couldn’t – believe it. A week ago, I would have defended him with every ounce of my being.
And then I read the report. And it’s clear these aren’t just allegations; these are things he actually did, and they are of the vilest sort. I feel betrayed, as I imagine many of you do as well. And we should feel that way. Because we were.
I live in rectory where at least three, possibly 4, of the other monsters named in that report once lived. I don’t care how many years ago it might have been, it still creeps me out. It just doesn’t feel right. Nothing this week has felt right. I haven’t slept well. I haven’t eaten well. For the first time ever, I was embarrassed to go out dressed like a priest. I did anyway, because we have to face this, but a lot of me just wanted to give up. I know despair is a sin, but…
I was praying the other morning, and this line from Psalm 69 was a punch in the face:
Let those who hope in you not be put to shame through me, Lord of hosts: let not those who seek you be dismayed through me, God of Israel.
That wasn’t just part of my personal prayer; that particular psalm is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, and every priest is supposed to pray that daily, which means they’ve all heard that line before…and nevertheless, we’ve still managed to shame you and to dismay you.
We failed you. The very people we are supposed to serve. It’s soul-crushing.
So thank you for simply being here tonight, but it helps restore my hope. It shows your faith in a way that you might not even understand, and it helps. It’s a courageous act, and it’s an act of love for God. It tells me and tells the world that you still believe in Him, trust Him, and love Him, even if His Church has harmed and scandalized you. I needed that.
Any number of people have asked me where God is in all of this, and I’ve struggled for an answer. I mean, of course He’s in here somewhere, because God does not abandon His people, but where? And how? I’ve been struggling to answer that, even for myself. But a priest friend of mine, from the Archdiocese of Boston, wrote something the other day that made a lot of sense.
When grotesque sins emerge in the life of the Church, people inevitably ask, “Where is God in all this?” Answer: God is in the purge. The fact that purges keep happening is ample evidence of the fact that God wants the Church to return to holiness. If God didn’t care a whit about the Church he founded at Pentecost, he’d let it destroy itself, or simply grind it into the dust. But instead, as we speak, many forces in the world—even those that despise the Church and what she stands for—are conspiring to expose its wrongdoing. For free. And, clearly, without any inside help. If that isn’t Divine Providence, then nothing is. Even hardened secular types want the Church to return to a truer self. We should be deeply grateful that these people are mysteriously doing our work for us, vicariously fulfilling our Christian duty to expose evil.
When you really think about, that’s everything right there. God wants nothing more than for each of us to be happy with Him in heaven – which means he wants us to be holy. If the Church is supposed to be the spotless bride of Christ – then she needs to actually be the holy and spotless bride of Christ. The vocation of a husband or a wife is to get their spouse to heaven; the vocation of a parent is to get their child to heaven; the vocation of the Church is to get all of us to heaven. And since we are the Church, that means that this is our work.
And so we must demand holiness. But of who? First and foremost, of ourselves. We must be holy. We must take seriously our lives of prayer, our reception of the sacraments, and our works of charity. But we must also demand holiness of one another. The time for complacency, if there ever was one, is long past. We must speak up and against sin and injustices. We must support one another with prayer, and we must offer support when someone is struggling, but we cannot ever make excuses for them. You have a right to expect them to be holy. And they have an obligation to do so.
Needless to say, that extends to priests and, yes, to bishops, as well. They most certainly have an obligation to be holy, and you should absolutely demand it of them and call them to account when they fail you in that sacred task. We’re seeing the fruits of what happens when they fail. Imagine the fruit that will be produced when we succeed.
But we have to do the work. We can talk about holiness, but that accomplishes nothing. We have to do the work of actually being holy. In the first reading, we hear that Wisdom has prepared her table before us. She has set out a sumptuous banquet – but we have to decide if we want to sit down and eat. Saint Paul tells us we need to make the right choice: to start living in accordance with the Gospel, or to give in to the depravity of the age; but he can’t make the choice for us. Jesus offers us His Body and Blood as true food and true drink, but He leaves the choice to us: do we want to holiness and life they offer, or are we content with sin and death?
Let us choose holiness.
God forbid there are any victims sitting out there right now, but if there are, and you haven’t come forward yet, please do. We need you. We need to heal this, and we can’t do that until we know how hurt we are. I know it might be embarrassing for you, and I won’t even pretend to understand the pain of it all, but we need you. You, whom we hurt the most, will be the ones that call us back to holiness the most. Please do it.
Where do we go from here? Our situation seems precarious. This could go a lot of different ways, I suppose. But the choice seems clear. We must choose to be holy, and choose it now. As for where that will lead us…well, the path it might take us down will no doubt be dark and threatening. But if we remain on it, it will eventually lead us to heaven.