Because He is the Word of God, made flesh, the words Christ speaks are by no means the only way in which he conveys God's truth to all who have the eyes to see it. Those privileged to experience His life in the flesh doubtless learned much about the comportment God approves by observing what we today might call Christ's "body language." We cannot make sense of Christ unless we include his actions in the instructive array of parables, sayings and commands that constitute His teachings. In this vein, St. Paul writes to the Philippians (4:8–9):
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Everyone who steps forward to accept the vocation of holiness as a priest or bishop, cardinal or other member of the Church's avowed and dedicated Apostolate has to understand that the example of their walk is part of their ministry. Lay Catholics look to them not only for their spoken and written words, but for their practices, reflecting the "things unseen," or spiritual things, which good faith makes evident. They are, as it were, like parents who must understand that their children intently watch and learn from their actions. They are drawn to mimic their tone, their gestures and their habits, for good or ill.
In this respect, the clergy are supposed to be exemplars of Christ. They live to demonstrate, as he did, what it means to "seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, ever keeping in "mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth." Their lives should make known, in consequence, what the Apostle means when he says to the Colossians, "You have died: and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1–2, 3).
With this in mind, it may be demoralizing to the hope and good faith of some, even many of the laity, when they see the Church's sworn and dedicated exemplars of faith egregiously failing, to be mindful of their devotion — not just to the words, but the example of Christ. No doubt, as the Apostle says, we all fall short of the glory. But there many among the laity shrink humbly from avowing their dedication to a religious vocation because, rightly or wrongly, they feel certain that they will not measure up to the high and daily calling of the avowed Apostolate.
In this respect, the calling of the religious seems to involve a combination of humility and heroism that seems to most of us too hard to achieve — pride being as it is, such a sly, clever and seductive temptress. It seems, in fact, beyond the reach of ordinary humanity, who hope to follow the normal ordinances as best we can but shrink from making a promise of perfection that seems, to most of us, an avowal we are bound to fail. Perhaps we too little ponder the fact that, when they fully embrace the calling they hear from God in Christ, the avowed and dedicated religious do not trust in their own perfect abilities.
They trust in the promise of mercy that is the common hope of all who strive to follow Christ. They strive to labor, without stint and constantly, under the yoke of God's benevolent rule. The good intent with which they take that vow is rightly regarded as proof of love. But their true love and courage lies, not just in the vow, but in their humble admission that, in and of themselves alone, they are bound to fall short of fulfilling it.
They take it, despite the daunting knowledge that they must, in some wise, fall short of the perfection it entails. They take it knowing that when their incapacity stands revealed, they will come to the moment of truth, the moment that truly tests their profession of hope derived from the evidence of Christ's sacrificial triumph.
In that moment, will they prove that they swore not in vain? Will they fall, as Judas did, into the slough of desperation, hopelessness and self-willed physical death or spiritual abandon? Or will they prove that they swore not in vain? Many have done so, in the past, standing by the cross of Christ, albeit with fear and trembling. Humbly, they awaited the execution of such justice as God deemed them to deserve. But they also trusted in the mercy of God, like the Publican whom Christ recommends. This mercy they have not merited, but Christ won it in principle, once and for all, by suffering the pain that he did not deserve, upon that very cross.
This train of thought suggests a course of action for clerics, high and low, who seem, as a body, to have failed the vocation of Christ, to which they promised to dedicate their lives. Some who did so now seem guilty of great sin or great complicity therein. Others seem, like Christ, innocent of any transgression. Yet these latter are called, as Christ was, to face travails occasioned by the consequences of sin, consequences set in motion by the sins of others. The guilty are called to cry out for the mercy of God, which mercy Christ approved by his sacrifice. The innocent are called to imitate Christ: taking pains willingly to commend their spirit to God, whose goodwill they will thus fulfill, as Christ did.
The recent revelations about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick have emphatically raised doubts among America's Catholics about the whole leadership of the Church. The same is probably true wherever such revelations have come to the fore. These are not doubts any one of the Catholic hierarchy can resolve by self-justification, even at the highest level. Rather, they must turn to God and make clear to the whole Church that they pray for and rely upon the justification of God in Jesus Christ. For Christ alone assures us of God's mercy for our sins.
So the Apostle says:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction ... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21–24)
Laying aside all pretense of preeminence, the cardinals and bishops of the Catholic Church should resign themselves to the mercy of God. They should evince this resignation by declaring their intention to lay down their offices, with effect after a period of preparatory prayer and fasting throughout the Body of Christ. After that period, the College of Cardinals should convene to select a Pope. Following the example of the first Apostles, they should select two candidates, neither of whom is at all tainted by personal or doctrinal complicity in the scandal of human self-worship and idolatry that presently permeates the Church.
Again, as in the beginning, the final decision should be made by casting lots, to signify due reliance on the merciful Providence of God. Once a new Pope is elected, all Church leaders bearing the title and office of bishop or above should formally resign their offices. All should them await the new Pope's decision regarding their future service. Thus, the Church's leadership will humbly place itself before the Lord, saying, like the leper in the Gospel (Matthew 8:2): "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." Then it will be for God, in and through Jesus Christ, to answer what He will.