It has been a strange week or two around here. Almost a month after last month’s revelation that a credible allegation had been made concerning behavior by Cardinal McCarrick toward a youth almost fifty years ago, suddenly other allegations are coming forward. Two long stories in the New YorkTimeslast week finally were acknowledged this week by our own local papers. More information, more testimony, and more disturbing behavior strung together into a pattern, have brought forth more recrimination, more condemnation, and more exculpation. Everybody suddenly is an expert on how this happened, whose fault it was, and what the Church needs to do differently starting now.
I hope you will not find it unhelpful if I remain circumspect in the matter, at least in public and on the record. Love for Christ and His Church has generated much public outcry, but I warn you to be wary of the less laudable interests that have also been very much at work.
Reading a simple news story has for decades now been anything but simple. The five basic questions every news story should address -- Who, what, when, where, and how?– have yielded to the necessity of maintaining a narrative that advances a position or program. Thus it now falls to the reader to answer a question about any story he encounters: why? Why is this story here? Why is this information included, why is other information missing? Why is it published now, since nothing “new” is in this so-called “news?” Examining this can reveal far more about what the so-called journalist is trying to accomplish than what is actually occurring in the wide world.
The details about the strange life and behavior of Cardinal McCarrick are emerging in the confluence of conflicting narratives and programs. Youmay be looking at it purely in the context of love for Christ and His Church, but it would be a misjudgment to assume the same of any given reporter or commentator.
Jesus’ example of and call to kenotic (self-sacrificing) love is both an invitation to all who hear Him to take up our cross and follow Him, and an offer to provide the superabundant fruit of His own perfect sacrifice to repair the damage we do ourselves and the world when we fail or refuse to take up our cross and follow.
Jesus’ example of and call to kenotic (self-sacrificing) love is NOT universally well received. In the first Christian century, Saint Paul said to some it was a scandal and to others a stumbling-block; in our time many public voices tell us it is an outrage, an injustice, a tool of oppression, and a badge of ignorance.
The Church is Christ’s perduring presence in the world and His unrelenting activity to bring to completion His Father’s will that all mankind be saved. She cannot embrace, advocate, or advance any admixture or dilution of His saving Word, nor has she. This has ever set her apart, and for this she is abominated by the selfish ones.
There are those who say corruption in one of the ministers or members of the Church is a sign that the Church is not Holy.
There are those who say that holding Christ’s perfect sacrifice as the mark and model of authentic communion between God and Man is not human.
These two diametrically opposed opinions, sometimes held simultaneously in the minds of the same persons, are now smashing headlong into one another in the rush to analyze and respond to these latest revelations. If you examine these arguments closely, you will quickly find that rooted in such falsehood, they cannot stand. Dismiss them like so much rubbish.
Clinging to what humility I can muster, I make no prescription for the Church, or for you. Facing human sinfulness full-on, in the place we most devoutly hoped not to find it, we take refuge in the one prescription our God has both administered, and taken on Himself: the mystery of the Cross. Ave crux, spes unica!-- Hail the Cross, our only hope!
Here’s the second half of the interview with Walker Percy that I began last week. Perhaps you are beginning to get a grip on his sense; not only his sense of humor, but also his sense of the Faith, of the world, and of how to break through false sensibilities. Perhaps you are even beginning to get a sense of why I enjoy his writing so much! He presents himself as quite the curmudgeon, and cares not one whit for more delicate sensitivities that we might now lump under “political correctness,” though this interview predates that term. But his point is very much worth making, and I hope it will help you see past some of the limits that “permissible language" has placed on contemporary conversation, and even conviction.
Q: You don’t act or talk like a Christian. Aren’t they supposed to love one another and do good works? A: Yes.
Q: You don’t seem to have much use for your fellowman or do many good works. A: That’s true. I haven’t done a good work in years.
Q: In fact, if I may be frank, you strike me as being rather negative in your attitude, cold-blooded, aloof, derisive, self-indulgent, more fond of the beautiful things of this world than of God. A: That’s true.
Q: You even seem to take certain satisfaction in the disasters of the twentieth-century and to savor the imminence of world catastrophe rather than world peace, which all religions seek. A: That’s true.
Q: You don’t seem to have much use for your fellow Christians, to say nothing of Ku Kluxers, ACLU’ers, northerners, southerners, fem-libbers, anti-fem-libbers, homosexuals, anti-homosexuals, Republicans, Democrats, hippies, anti-hippies, senior citizens. A: That’s true – though taken as individuals they turn out to be more or less like oneself, i.e., sinners, and we get along fine.
Q: Even Ku Kluxers? A: Sure.
Q: How do you account for your belief? A: I can only account for it as a gift from God.
Q: Why would God make you such a gift when there are others who seem more deserving, that is, serve their fellowman? A: I don’t know. God does strange things. For example, he picked as one of his saints a fellow in northern Syria, a local nut, who stood on top of a pole for thirty-seven years.
Q: We are not talking about saints. A: That’s true.
Q: We are talking about what you call a gift. A: You want me to explain it? How would I know? The only answer I can give is that I asked for it, in fact demanded it. I took it as an intolerable state of affairs to have found myself in this life and in this age, which is a disaster by any calculation, without demanding a gift commensurate with the offense. So I demanded it. No doubt other people feel differently.
Q: But shouldn’t faith bear some relation to the truth, facts? A: Yes. That’s what attracted me, Christianity’s rather insolent claim to be true, with the implication that other religions are more or less false.
In order to enjoy a little lassitude in the summer swelter, I am letting one of my favorite authors share with you, through an interviewer, some of his insights into the Faith we share. Monsignor Smith
Walker Percy was one of the most notable Southern writers of his lifetime (along with Flannery O’Connor, of course) who was able to speak about faith without actually speaking about faith. The following is an interview from “Questions They Never Asked Me,” which appears in Conversations with Walker Percy:
Q: What kind of Catholic are you? A. Bad.
Q: No. I mean are you liberal or conservative? A: I no longer know what those words mean.
Q: Are you a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?A: I don’t know what that means, either. Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?
Q: Yes. A: Yes.
Q: How is such a belief possible in this day and age? A: What else is there?
Q: What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy. A: That’s what I mean.
Q: To say nothing of Judaism and Protestantism. A: Well, I would include them along with the Catholic Church in the whole peculiar Jewish-Christian thing.
Q: I don’t understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative? A: Yes.
Q: Why? A: It’s not good enough.
Q: Why not? A: This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
Q: Grabbed aholt? A: A Louisiana expression.
Q: But isn’t the Catholic Church in a mess these days, badly split, its liturgy barbarized, vocations declining? A: Sure. That’s a sign of its divine origins, that it survives these periodic disasters.
While last week I responded to the patriotic urge to reflect on our nation, this week I want to plunge deeper into the depth and breadth of our Catholic treasury and share with you a reflection from one of the great Fathers of the Church, perhaps the greatest from the Syriac tradition. Ephrem, customarily called “the Syrian,” reminds us of the life of Christian faith that thrived in that part of the world before its military conquest by the forces of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula.
I subtitle this reflection “On drinking from a firehose,” because he works the “spring of life” metaphor to explain to us why we need to keep returning to the Word of God revealed in Scripture and Tradition even after we drunk deeply. Whenever one of your family – or even you! – wonder why we must return again and again to the same passages of Scripture and the same prayers and antiphons, let this help you find the answer. Who among us does not always again find something hitherto unnoticed? So it was in the fourth century and so it is for us in the twenty-first. Enjoy!
Lord, who can comprehend even one of your words. We lose more of it than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring. For God’s word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him. Within it he has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out.
The word of God is a tree of life that offers us blessed fruit from each of its branches. It is like that rock which was struck open in the wilderness, from which all were offered spiritual drink. As the Apostle says: They ate spiritual food and they drank spiritual drink.
And so whenever anyone discovers some part of the treasure, he should not think that he has exhausted God’s word. Instead he should feel that this is all that he was able to find of the wealth contained in it. Nor should he say that the word is weak and sterile or look down on it simply because this portion was all that he happened to find. But precisely because he could not capture it all he should give thanks for its riches.
Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty man is happy when he is drinking, and he is not depressed because he cannot exhaust the spring. So let this spring quench your thirst, and not your thirst the spring. For from it you can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can drink from it once more; but if when your thirst is sated the spring is also dried up, then your victory would turn to your own harm.
Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such an abundance still remains.What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your heritage. For what you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere. So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on.
From a commentary on the Diatesseron by Saint Ephrem, deacon+373