7th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached February 24, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
St. Paul writes in one place: rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rm 12:15) In another place he gives the deep inner reason for that exhortation when he writes, Now you are all Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all parts share its joy. (1 Cor 12:27 and 26, inverting the order of the passages for clarity)
Very often, in the midst of all the distress in the world and the turmoil in our own daily lives we come to Mass seeking a sort of safe refuge, a place of consolation. It can then be very disturbing to hear about the evils in the world and in the Church.
Now, indeed, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, given to us in the Holy Eucharist especially, should be our sure refuge. Nevertheless, to find refuge and peace in the Heart of Christ, we must also be willing to share in his sorrow and distress, which is the sorrow and distress of his whole Body and indeed of all humanity whom he calls to repentance and salvation. That means that finally, when we come here, we will find the desired refuge and peace when we learn to embrace the Cross of Christ. We could say that above all the Mass gives sweetness to Christ’s Cross and thereby gives us strength to follow him.
So with that introduction, let me now speak about something very distressing that has taken place and is a sign of even deeper problems.
Mr. Theodore McCarrick has experienced a stunning, visible, public fall. As of June 19 of last year he was known as Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, DC and although he was retired he was still active and very much in favor with the Pope.
On June 20, 2018, however it was announced that he had been removed from public ministry at the orders of the Pope because of certain accusations made against him. It is not necessary here and now to go into the nature and details of those accusations that are now public and well-known. On July 27 it was announced that the Pope had accept his resignation from the College of Cardinals and had ordered him to live a life of seclusion, prayer, and penance. He was now Archbishop McCarrick.
This month on February 16 it was announced that Mr. McCarrick had been found guilty of various ecclesial crimes, had been stripped of his priestly status, and returned to the lay state.
What does that mean? Some clarification is needed. When a priest is “defrocked” that does not mean that he is no longer a priest, but that he is no longer allowed by the Church to exercise his priestly power in any way. He can no longer present himself as a priest, celebrate Mass, hear confessions, preach or exercise any priestly function. Yet, he remains a priest. Mr. McCarrick when he was ordained to the priesthood received the sacred “character” or mark of the priesthood in his soul. When he was ordained as a bishop he received the mark of the episcopacy on his soul. That sacred character is indelible. Mr. McCarrick is still one of the Lord’s ‘anointed’ ones. When he goes before the judgment seat of God he will appear before God and be judged as a bishop. If by God’s mercy he attains to salvation, that mark of his episcopacy will shine brightly in heaven. If he is condemned eternally by the justice of God, the same mark will burn fiercely in hell.
Now, do you want an example of true mercy and love of enemy?
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, has been vocal in denouncing the crimes of Mr. McCarrick, together with the corruption in high places that made those crimes possible. We can say that he and Mr. McCarrick have been long standing enemies.
In any case, Archbishop Vigano in a letter of January 13 this year made a public appeal to Mr. McCarrick. He wrote these moving words:
“No matter what decision the supreme authority of the Church takes in your case, what really matters and what has saddened those who love you and pray for you is the fact that throughout these months you haven’t given any sign of repentance. I am among those who are praying for your conversion, that you may repent and ask pardon of your victims and the Church.
Time is running out, but you can confess and repent of your sins, crimes and sacrileges, and do so publicly, since they have themselves become public. Your eternal salvation is at stake.
But something else of great importance is also at stake. You, paradoxically, have at your disposal an immense offer of great hope for you from the Lord Jesus; you are in a position to do great good for the Church. In fact, you are now in a position to do something that has become more important for the Church than all of the good things you did for her throughout your entire life. A public repentance on your part would bring a significant measure of healing to a gravely wounded and suffering Church. Are you willing to offer her that gift? Christ died for us all when we were still sinners (Rom. 5: 8). He only asks that we respond by repenting and doing the good that we are given to do. The good that you are in a position to do now is to offer the Church your sincere and public repentance. Will you give the Church that gift?
I implore you, repent publicly of your sins, so as to make the Church rejoice and present yourself before the tribunal of Our Lord cleansed by His blood. Please, do not make His sacrifice on the cross void for you. Christ, Our Good Lord, continues to love you. Put your entire trust in His Sacred Heart. And pray to Mary, as I and many others are doing, asking her to intercede for the salvation of your soul.”
Theodore McCarrick, apart from the immediate victims of his crimes, has grievously wounded the Church. He has proved to be a true enemy not personally of Archbishop Vigano, but of the whole Church; he showed himself to be a wolf clothed as a shepherd. Because his crimes were exposed he has become emblematic of the crisis that is currently shaking the Church.
One aspect of the crisis, one that contributed to Theodore McCarrick’s rise to power, has been a false concept of mercy. I have heard time and time again, especially in Pennsylvania, among priests and bishops, language that has sought to justify leniency towards the crimes and misconduct of the clergy in the name of “mercy”. It is an idea of mercy that excludes justice, is oblivious of any duty to protect the innocent, sees no real need for repentance, much less reparation, and above all has little concern for eternal salvation, which it seems to take for granted.
The real nonsense here is that if a just punishment is something “deserved”, then mercy is intelligible as giving a pardon that frees from the punishment; but if the justice of the punishment is not recognized, there can be no mercy involved in sparing the evildoer; refraining from punishment would not be the practice of mercy, but the avoidance of injustice.
By way of contrast, Archbishop Vigano, by his words at least, starting with a concern for Mr. McCarrick’s eternal salvation, shows him true mercy, by calling him to repent in a public fashion as befits the public and grave nature of his crimes, and so receive pardon from God, if not from his victims, and the faithful of the Church. Archbishop Vigano shows Mr. McCarrick a way in which even now he has a precious gift to offer the whole Church precisely by way of a public repentance.
Archbishop Vigano has actually exemplified for us the teaching of today’s Gospel: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. It is an example that we should follow even to the point of praying for the conversion and repentance of such an evildoer as Mr. McCarrick. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Lk 15:7)
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. The sorrow of the Heart of Jesus is human sin and his joy is sincere repentance and the ability to pour forth the abundance of his mercy into the hearts of men.