John's Jottings

22nd Sunday in OT, 2018

One of my favorite saints, St. Francis of Assisi, lived between 1181 and 1226, an era called the Medieval Church period. During this time the Church was doing what it has always done, Baptizing, Marrying, Confirming, burying the dead, helping the poor, praying the liturgies and catechizing. But also going on in the Medieval Church was a power struggle on the Papal level. Influential and wealthy families, hoping to be or stay in power, fought over who would be Pope. Of course, this created many conflicts between families and cities and even countries. Remember that this time the Pope also was a Sovereign with his own country, the Papal States, not like Vatican City. They had their own army, taxation, judicial system and so on. This got the Pope and the Church involved in political matters and oftentimes faith did not influence the decisions of the state but only how much wealth and power could be controlled. It put the control of the Church in a few family’s hands who could and were oftentimes swayed by the wealth and power that came with having one of their own as Pope. And so, wealth and power were the places Satan could reach his talons into the Church of Jesus Christ, the Body of Christ. At the time of St. Francis, Innocent III was elected and came into power through his influential family, he was not a terrible Pope considering how he got the job. He came into power in very difficult times when the Muslims were moving swiftly to take over North Africa, the Middle East and especially Jerusalem. (he called for a Crusade to regain Jerusalem.) There was lots of corruption and all that goes with absolute power and great wealth. Along comes a guy wearing rags to ask Pope Innocent, in true humility, to let him found an order of Friars. Their work would be to serve the poor and they would preach everywhere or anywhere the Pope would want to send them. These men would not own anything and never keep any money and beg for a living. Very opposite of the medieval Church. The Popes inclination was to ignore this small band of beggars, until one night he had a dream that the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral Church of Rome, was falling over and was about to be demolished and holding up the corner was a young man in rags and bare feet, the same man that came to get his community approved by him. He gave the barefoot, ragged Francis and his twelve friars his blessing, commissioning them to preach on the streets and countryside everywhere. To teach the real Jesus Christ, one crucified, one resurrected, a Jesus were real joy is found, were peace of mind and heart is found. The influence of this order grew quickly changing what the church was to do and even how it would do its business.


Why do I bring that up now? I too have had a the “proverbial” dream that the Church of Saint Peters Basilica seems to be crumbling and who do I see holding it up?..... I do know this crumbling comes about because of the actions and non-actions of priest and Bishops throughout the world relating to sexual deviance. In the time of St. Francis, the devil reached his scaly talons into the Church using power and wealth. The kind of wealth and power the Medieval Church had was taken away from the Church, thank God. Therefore, Satan had to find another way to reach into the Church at its very foundations. Mostly the Church is no longer influenced by governments and their power, leaving the most important part of the Church, its spirituality. All spirituality is also a form of power and if not used well can become decadent and abused for selfish and dark reasons. Satan found his way into the body of Christ, the Church in its deepest place… our personhood, our sexuality.


The Gospel from Mark has Jesus saying, “Hear me, all of you and understand nothing that enters one from the outside can defile the person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.” The deepest part of our personhood our sexuality, that which new life is formed, is being used and manipulated, from men and women from within our Church and using corrupt spirituality to have power over, rather than power from God.


The discovery of this going on within the Church is terrifying to me and that is why I give thanks for that same discovery, for it is a purification of the Church. As St. Francis held the Church up by his poverty, humility and Christlikeness, in my dream this generation of young people are holding up the corner of St. Peters Basilica with humility, truth and the love of the Eucharist. I may see that in my dream, but all of us must hear the cry of Christ who is imploring us to humility as St. Francis and that all of us, I mean all if us, need to repent for the things we do and don’t do, for repentance opens the door to grace. Repent for the times we did not speak up or demand change or when we were wishy-washy with the teachings we gave our children. The times we let TV or other media form our children’s sexual morality. Maybe the times we voted not on faith but a need for wealth. I of course could go on and on.


We are being called to holiness and humility because so many people have been wounded. As we do this we are the new saints the St. Francis’, humbly going before the Church saying, “My life will be like Christs” not berating and leaving in a huff, but humbly living our lives on the “statutes and decrees” which the Church teaches, observing them from our hearts that know the forgiving love of Jesus Christ. When we begin to do this then our challenge to the hierarchy, to the Church will begin to ring true. We are to witness to the truth… for truth is not an old thing, but truth is like beauty, ever ancient, ever new.


Francis did not sit around a nice house but left his comfortable zone and preached boldly the truth. In our Baptism we were baptized to be Priest, Prophet and King. My challenge to you is to take the “Prophet” part of your baptism and run with it, passionately. Don’t run away, that’s cowardly, look at the Old Testament prophets, most were killed demanding the Rulers of Israel to come back to the truth, and the law, they were courageous and we too as the prophetic voice in the church must be courageous. Do not let the purveyor of lies chase you off. Yes, this is about Satan’s attack and historically it has always been the prophets who could counteract the evil one, because were sin abounds, grace abounds even more.


Yes, some people in the Church, people we should have been able to trust, have done heinous crimes and for justice sake, I hope there are consequences to fit the crimes. Am I angry, am I disgusted, am I disappointed? Yes, but if I let that fester and don’t do something about my own spiritual life, then I cannot, cannot be a healer and a prophet to those men and women who were abused and need healers, the wounds are great and long term, we may not see the consequences of the healing balm of Jesus in our lifetime, but if we set the roots deeply with prayer it will happen. We need new saints to emerge out of this scandal, to hold up the corner of the Church, we need to look deeply into our lives and seek out those things that might be dark and can lead us away from the truth. Remember some of those predator priests entered the priesthood for good reasons, but got caught up in their own darkness went down into a hole were Satan gleefully pulled them in. We must humbly, repent, pray, worship. Let’s develop families that want to pray together, go to Church together, talk about their faith together, work together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and hopeless and so on.
The challenge is now to be the new Saints, the prophetic voice in our Church, our families, our world. As I think about St. Francis there were lots of miracles attributed to him, let that be us, or as the vision statement of St. Gregory Catholic School says, “lead like a Saint.”


St. Francis move over… here come the new saints of this generation and they are coming out of the Church of St. Gregory the Great.


God Bless all of you,

Fr. John, O.S.B.


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