FRIDAY of the NINETEENTH WEEK in Ordinary Time

You have turned from your anger to comfort me.

(Responsorial: Isaiah 12:2-6)

Catholics are not afraid to see and admit sin in the Church. Our history includes popes who were lechers and murderers, bishops who were war-lords, and generations of priests ordained just for the financial benefits. Eight percent of the original “college of bishops” sold out Jesus for money (one out of twelve). The first pope cursed and swore that he did not know him (Matthew 26:74). Current history stinks of child abuse and bishops’ failure to correct it. We “moan and groan over all the abominations that are practiced within the Church,” as everyone who is human should. But does it frighten or discourage us? No.

In Ezekiel 16:1-63, after describing Israel’s sins in images so strong the Church expurgates them from the reading, God says: “Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you... I will re-establish my covenant with you, that you may know that I am the LORD... and be covered with confusion... utterly silenced for shame when I pardon you for all you have done.”

God says our greatest punishment will be the shame we feel when he responds to our sins with such overwhelming love. If we want to revenge ourselves on others who offend us, that is the way to do it. You have turned from your anger to comfort me. Our ministry is to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” But the bottom line is to comfort as we hope to be comforted.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:3-12 should not be read in separation from Matthew 19:16-30. The texts are parallel in structure: Asked a question, Jesus gives an answer that shocks his disciples, who see it as impossibly unrealistic. Jesus agrees: it can only be accepted by those empowered by God to do so. The first teaching concerns marriage, and the Church reads it as a legal obligation. The second teaching concerns the renunciation of all possessions, and the Church has no legislation about that. But however we interpret them, they are parallel teachings. If either is stronger than the other, it is the repeated insistence on giving up all our possessions as a condition for accepting the Christian (that is, “perfect”) way of life. 1

Nothing in Canon Law itself bans from Communion those in marriages not recognized by the Church (the writers say this is a “conscience matter,” not a juridical issue). But they are often banned in practice by local policy, bred from an obsolete excommunication (deleted Canon 2319), and a pastoral fear of “scandal.” However, the Church has never refused Communion to those scandalously attached to wealth.

Initiative: Condemn sin with mercy. But don’t be blindly selective.

1 See Matthew 4:18-22; 5:40-42; 6:19-21, 25-34; 8:19-20; 10:9-10; 19:27-29; Luke 3:11; 12:33; 19:8; Acts 2:45;

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THURSDAY of the NINETEENTH WEEK in Ordinary Time

Do not forget the works of the Lord!

(Responsorial: Psalm 78)

Ezekiel 12:1-2 lays it out very simply: “You live in a rebellious house. They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear.” But generalities are useless. Specifically, how would this apply to our time?

At the inaugural convention of the American Catholic Council in Detroit, June 12, 2011, an estimated 2,000 reform-minded Catholics stood en masse to endorse a 10-point Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Speaker after speaker articulated the participants’ frustration at growing clericalism in the church and what they viewed as sustained efforts by church authorities to slow down or reverse many of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Citing this does not imply agreement or disagreement. It simply presents a concrete challenge to “see and hear.”

Speakers criticized the way bishops have handled clerical sex abuse; the church’s treatment of gays; lack of consultation with the laity; mismanagement of church funds and property; closings of parishes and sales of the closed churches to pay off diocesan debts; and politicization of the Eucharist by some bishops who threaten to withhold Communion from insufficiently pro-life politicians.

I repeat: Citing this does not imply the author’s agreement or disagreement. We just cannot shut our ears to concerned Catholics who “moan and groan” over what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as “abominations that are practiced within the Church.”

Their examples:

Restorationism: Speakers and participants widely shared the view that under Benedict XVI and John Paul II, there has been a serious backpedaling on many Vatican II teachings and reforms. To name just a few: liturgical reform, lay participation, church engagement in the world, consultation in church decision-making.

Hierarchical authoritarianism: A revival of episcopal threats of excommunication or other church penalties as a response to dissent in matters open to serious debate.

Clericalism: more concern for priestly and episcopal prestige and power than for pastoral care and service. This is a growing issue in numerous areas of church life. 1

The “rebellious house” are not those who raise these issues, but those who refuse to listen and look at them with openness.

Should these spiritual Reflections raise such “political” issues? Can our spirituality be authentic if we have “eyes to see” but close them to what is going on around us? Can it?

It is not against the Gospel to “see, judge and act” in response to issues in the community of God’s People. Jesus did, though the religious authorities had him killed for it. Matthew 18:21 to 19:1 tells us what is against the Gospel: it is the refusal to forgive. We don’t reject anyone for sin. We raise issues and work for reconciliation. With love. 2

Initiative: See, Judge, Act with Jesus whose love is the Way, Truth and Life.

1 See National Catholic Reporter, June 21, 2011. 2 See-Judge-Act” was the formula of the ecclesiastically approved “Catholic Action” movement between World War II and Vatican II. View Today's Readings Here


The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.

(Responsorial: Psalm 113)

Ezekiel 9:1-22 tells the angel to mark as approved “all those who moan and groan over all the abominations that are practiced within Jerusalem.” What did Jesus consider “abominations”? The sin of the woman taken in adultery? The sin of the Samaritan, divorced five times and living with a man not her husband? Or the sins of the religious authorities in Jerusalem who plotted his death? The sins of the scribes and Pharisees he raged against in Matthew, chapter 23:

They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets an in the synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'

We should bewail all sins. But who today are guilty of “abominations” in the Church? Those whose unchosen sexual orientation makes them unable to find the comfort of physical affection in marriage, and whom we condemn for the kind of solace they seek? Or the uncondemned in high places who have coldly and knowingly placed child abusers in positions where they can prey upon the innocent? What sins “cry to heaven”—the sins of the divorced and remarried, or the sins of the ordained who refuse them Communion without “lifting a finger” to help them? Or the little clique of “backlash restorationists” who “sin against the Holy Spirit” by trying to frustrate the goals of the last worldwide gathering of bishops to seek the Spirit’s guidance through open dialogue, prayer and consultation at Vatican II?

On what foreheads would you look for the X?

Matthew 18:15-20 is one of the most ignored instructions in the Gospel. Anyone who ever “reports” someone to a pastor, bishop or pope without a one-on-one confrontation beforehand sins against it. Authorities who condemn authors or remove bishops without sitting down and discussing the issues on a “level playing field” and revealing all and every denunciation or report made against the accused likewise sin against the will of God as Jesus declared it here. Bishops and popes have the authority to “declare bound and loosed.” But to do so without proper procedure is abuse of power. It is an “abomination.”

The correct procedure is to pray together before discussing any issues that divide us. It is almost never done. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” When do those in conflict in the Church “gather together”? If we can’t join each other in anything else, we can always “join our voices” in praying together. Jesus said, “Whatever you ask, it shall be granted.” Why not try it?

Initiative: Follow the Gospel. Jesus is a better guide than current custom.

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