Saturday, September 1, 2012

Holier Than We

There's a very interesting article over at Patheos reflecting on Fr. Groeschel's recent interview as well as Fr. West's crusade to crucify Mark Shea. 

In a nutshell, Fr. Groeschel made a comment that seemed partially to blame some underage victims of sex abuse for their own abuse.  And Fr. West apparently is trying to destroy Mark Shea, a good fellow Catholic, for not being judgmental enough when it comes to homosexuals.

The writer of the blog post, entitled Holier Than None (Joanne K. McPortland), in looking at these two cases, makes some good points, and even gets off a real zinger or two.  She rightly says that each of us is, "just one more poor son of a bitch before God" (a marvelous starting point for any theology).  And, "The thing is, we sin when we put priests on pedestals and idolize them."  She mentions a few EWTN Rock Stars whose behavior is embarrassing in retrospect, but who were defended vigorously at the time of their scandals.

McPortland says, "God knows I’ve had my own go-rounds with Mark Shea, who has decided I am funny enough that he will kill me last."  No, Joanne, if you are funny enough he will kill you only by accident during a waterboarding session.

But she seems to make a fundamental error, even in the midst of her well-reasoned and well-intentioned article.  And I speak as someone who, even as the writer of a very minor blog, has received threats of physical violence because I criticized a bishop who enabled a sexual predator; was told by a Catholic cleric that he would ruin my reputation and tell everyone of the "corruption at the heart of Theater of the Word" because I criticized the mistaken theology of a Catholic celebrity; and most recently was told by more than one reader that I should go to a confessional because I dared to criticize a Catholic fan favorite.

So I say this knowing quite well that McPortland's main point is a valid one.  We tend to idolize priests - indeed any celebrity Christian - and we expect that their position entitles them to a special charism of holiness.

She's right there.  But here's where she's wrong.

She's wrong to imply that this "idolatry" is entirely sinful.

This yearning is a sign that we seek holiness in ourselves and others. When a man becomes a priest - or even when a man becomes a Christian - we are expecting more than mere hypocrisy. We are expecting him to become holy - because that's really the point of following Christ, after all - to become like Christ. 

Expecting our bishops and priests and deacons to be holier than we are - expecting even our Catholic media celebrities to model Christ - may be foolish, and is certainly doomed to disappointment.

But it is part of the yearning that points us to Christ.  That our hearts should seek Him in fallen and sinful men is a great and painful tragedy - but it's part of God's plan; for God Himself became a man, and we have in our mind's eye the image of the Man Who is Love, and Who once walked the earth, and we have been seeking Him ever since.


Frank Weathers said...

It’s a tough gig, maybe the toughest. The Communion of Saints agree…

A fine thing it would be for soldiers if they lost their captains! These preachers and theologians have to live among men and associate with men and stay in palaces and sometimes even behave as people in palaces do in outward matters. Do you think, my daughters, that it is an easy matter to have to do business with the world, to live in the world, to engage in the affairs of the world, and, as I have said, to live as worldly men do, and yet inwardly to be strangers to the world, and enemies of the world, like persons who are in exile—to be, in short, not men but angels? Yet unless these persons act thus, they neither deserve to bear the title of captain nor to be allowed by the Lord to leave their cells, for they would do more harm than good. This is no time for imperfections in those whose duty it is to teach. —St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, Chapter 3.

Joey Higgins said...

We do this with politicians as well - politicians need to be "holier" or "more perfect" than ourselves, lest they be disqualified for not being intelligent enough, going to a good enough school, or not being enough of something; something that most of us are not.

StevenD-Jasper said...

How dare Fr. West criticize Mark Shea.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Steven, Mark Shea is not above criticism, but Fr. West's criticism of him is relentless, personal, derogatory, infalmmatory, uncharitable, mean-spirited, spiteful, and vicious.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, I've been reading your blog posts, and feel your pain! Dude, you have really become bitter about the way the Catholic Church is treating you. Don't you think it is time to get out of such intimate involvement with such a chaotic, conflict-ridden organization (the Catholic Church)? Since Vatican II, its theology has been incoherent, vague, conflicted and ambiguous. There is never going to be any end to this mess. God and Jesus live on, but the Catholic Church is a vehicle for the Gospel that is from now on always going to be somewhat rather disappointing. There's not going to be some restoration of the Catholic Church to the glory days of Chesterton or St. Paul or St. Pius X or Blessed John Paul II. Nor will their be any political restoration to the glory days of Ronald Reagan or FDR or George Washington any such thing. But all the other churches are really the same. The only real solution is to get out of the religion business. Have a personal relationship with God and with a few other human beings who will have you. That's it. The Right and the Left each promise that their own version of Utopia is just around the corner. But no Utopia is coming to this earth. I live in St. Louis. I have seen you perform the St. Paul show. I enjoyed the show. I hate to see you suffering as you are. This is not suffering like St. Paul's, which was for a great and noble cause. You are rather just wrestling with mangy dogs over scraps of bone and skin. You know the saying: "Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas." Well, I wrote that all from the heart, hoping it might give you a perspective that would help in this journey of ours. I wasn't trying to insult you, or argue with you. Best wishes.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Anonymous, thank you for your heart-felt comment.

But it's not the Catholic Church that "is a vehicle for the Gospel that is from now on always going to be somewhat rather disappointing." It is the human race that is the imperfect vehicle of the Gospel, the heart of man that will disappoint, our own selfish sins that will let us down.

The Church is more disappointing than man in general because the Church aspires to more. But God became man so as to redeem men from this and through this fallen state. You are quite right that the glory days will never return in this life, for the glory days have never been - at least since Eden.

But the battles within and without the Church are not over scraps of bone and skin. The battle is over the Body of Christ.

You are right that it will be a losing battle. Pedophiles will continue to be protected; critics of the problems in the Church will continue to be marginalized and persecuted; friends will show their true colors and either stand firm or fall away; my frustration will find no easy solution.

But to give up on all of that is to give up on love.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against us. The Catholic Church is the only human thing that is constantly being renewed, the only human thing that will never be corrupted unto death, for it is the only human thing that is not only a human thing.