Thursday, July 18, 2013

Calling Our Brother 'Renegade'

I realized then that what the Church, the people of God, needed was the strong food of the Holy Scriptures. All those intellectual sermons, so prominent in those days, were getting the Church nowhere. I also realized deep down in my heart that the promotion of all the novenas and devotions was not the answer either. Oh, there is nothing wrong with novenas, First Fridays, First Saturdays and the rest. I am all for those things. I am all for them, provided they do not take the place of the liturgy and the scriptures. So I started teaching the liturgy and the scriptures, because these were crying needs of the people of God.

Fathers Godfrey Diekmann and Virgil Michel were doing the same thing. I forgot how many people attended the first liturgical conference. Forty or so. You were laughed out of house and home for going. Teaching scripture! Nobody taught scripture, only priests to seminarians. You weren’t even supposed to read the scriptures! I didn’t care. Even if they crucified me, I didn’t care. With the help of these two good Fathers I continued teaching the liturgy and the scriptures, always with the approval of the bishop.

But the pain was growing. It appeared to me that I was becoming one immense wound. I kept praying. I began to realize that anyone who accepts the Gospel without compromise will not only become a wound, but a wound into which many people will constantly pour salt.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Fragments of My Life

Reflection – The Scriptures and the liturgy are the meat of the saints, Catherine would later say. And she did indeed make these the foundational pillars of the Madonna House apostolate.

Again, we see how Catherine saw the shortcomings and missing pieces of her day, what was lacking in the church. But instead of ranting and railing and pouting and fuming against ‘those lousy priests’ and ‘those lousy bishops’, she just got on with the task of doing what she could to address those needs.

In fact, she was very slow, very loath to ever publicly criticize the hierarchy. This was both practical and prudent—she needed their support to continue her work—but also flowed from her deep faith in the presence and authority of Christ in these flawed men. She would confront, challenge them face to face, always with great respect but nonetheless saying what she thought, but it was utterly against her grain to launch public campaigns to criticize the bishops or priests of Christ’s church.

This may seem very old-fashioned and retrograde in our world today, with the public scandals of the Church laid bare in every media for all to see. And there is a time and a place for public correction of the hierarchy, the sexual scandals being a case in point, for all the obvious reasons.

But our modern church culture has erred so far in the opposite direction that I really think Catherine has something to say to us, you know. Nowadays it is normal and commonplace to heap unlimited scorn and contempt on the bishops any old time we feel like it, any old time any bishop anywhere doesn’t do exactly what we think he should do. A bishop isn’t harsh enough with, say, a pro-abortion politician—so he’s a craven fool, a worthless spineless buffoon. Another bishop comes out strongly against same-sex marriage—so he’s a jerk, a tyrant, a monster, a hateful bigot. A bishop is slow in allowing traditional Latin masses—a modernist, a liberal, a slave to the spirit of the age! Another bishop restores traditional modes of piety and liturgical observance—a fossil, out of touch, a dinosaur!

We think nothing at all of hurling whatever term of opprobrium we choose on whatever bishop is annoying us today. And yet… ‘he who calls his brother a fool will answer for it to the Sanhedrin… who call his brother ‘renegade’ will answer for it in Gehenna.’ And bishops are our brothers, you know. I don’t see any proviso in the Sermon on the Mount saying ‘(unless he is wearing a mitre – then, have at him!)’.

We need to just get on with the business of meeting the needs of our church today, always getting the proper authorization from our ordinaries for whatever public work we wish to do, and stop carping endlessly about how much the clergy are messing up. It will cost us; it will be painful; we will have to do it in face of opposition and hostility from people who should be supporting us. That’s what Catherine did and what she suffered, and what we in MH still strive to do. And we’d be a lot further along in the task of the New Evangelization if everyone just got busy preaching the Gospel and teaching the faith, whatever it asks of us to do so, and spent less time in recrimination and complaining. Amen.

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