A Cure for Souls?
The term 'scandal' is much used nowadays; sadly, all too often it is deployed in connection with the Church. The word scandalum refers to that which causes others to stumble. It denotes an occasion, event, or incident which causes others to be wrongfooted; quite literally to lose their footing or more accurately, their foothold. The events of the past weeks in the United States and the implications of revelations concerning one prominent Cardinal of the Church, exemplify such an occasion. Questions will continue to be asked as to who knew what, and, more fundamentally, how it was - given such knowledge- those participating in misconduct of the type which has been alleged could have enjoyed such ascendancy and influence within the Church. These are important questions. The answers to them will doubtless reflect upon the integrity of the Church universal. But the allegations of institutional blindness have profound implications for all members of the Church; none more so than those who have quietly remained constant in their practice of the faith, in and out of season. When seeking to travel through the mists of scandal and see our way, we must not lose sight of two important realities. First, within the Church there remain good and Holy men who have committed themselves to an authentic life of service in the priesthood. Many of these men have suffered isolation from their brother priests on account of their orthodoxy and tradition. Their commitment challenges more liberal tendencies which seek to reduce the sacred priesthood to the status of another social welfare worker. Participation in social welfare is a necessary element of the Church's mission; service of the poor and the needy, reparation of social injustice are all worthy and proper causes. But they must not be allowed to eclipse the essence of the priesthood. Whether we like it or not, a superficial understanding of the priesthood (especially on the part of the priest himself) results in a lack of focus on those things upon which the effectiveness of the priesthood depends: prayer, devotion, prudence and humility. As the saying goes, it is all about the song, not the singer. When those who exercise authority in the Church (whether cleric or lay) tolerate or condone such a misunderstanding of the nature of priesthood, they create an environment in which those with ambition cultivate the status of celebrity rather the path of service. What then of the second reality? The Eucharist is the summit of all that the Church is and is called to be. It follows that it is only in the renewal of a true devotion to the Eucharist as the primordial duty of all the faithful, that the Church can prosper. In the words of St Jean Vianney:
"All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man."
On the day when we celebrate his feast, we would do well to remember this Holy patron of all priests, who placed himself before the tabernacle as a dog at the feet of his master. Resistant to the flattery and displeasure of those around him, he had a clarity of vision. This gift of spiritual focus enabled him to look beyond the difficulties of the age to the one reality and our true destination. May all of our priests be blessed with this same insight. St Jean Vianney, pray for us!