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But to the wicked God says: Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your mouth? You hate discipline; you cast my words behind you! If you see a thief, you run with him; with adulterers you throw in your lot. You give your mouth free rein for evil; you yoke your tongue to deceit. You sit and speak against your brother, slandering your mother's son. When you do these things should I be silent? Do you think that I am like you? I accuse you, I lay out the matter before your eyes. Now understand this, you who forget God, lest I start ripping apart and there be no rescuer. (Psalm 50:16)
I don't understand how any prelate in the Catholic hierarchy could read this warning from God and remain unconcerned with the crisis of confidence that presently besets the clerical administration of the Church throughout the world. In my column earlier this week, I alluded to the article reporting Richard Sipe's observations about the scandalous sexual delicts of clerics like former Cdl. Theodore McCarrick that have contributed to the crisis. The consciousness of our own sins and failings tempts us to say, with Pope Francis, "Who am I to judge?" But the report of the God's words in the Psalm sternly awaken us to the truth that God's judgment counts above our own.
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Christ, too, reminds us that judgment comes against the body as a whole when one of its members provokes that judgment. So so He says to the multitudes in His Sermon on the Mount:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have you whole body go into Gehenna (Matthew 5:29)
Isn't this why Christ, all innocent, suffered the tortures of offenses not his own? So St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "By suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race" (Summa Theologica, III, Q. 48, Article 2).
How then can such as we, who profess to be members of the living Body of Christ, refuse the discipline of love our Lord accepts? How can we choose, by complicity in wickedness, to defile His living body, resurrected in us by the spirit of God? How can we reject to stand with him under the yoke of God's love which, in Christ we are called to bear because doing so liberates us from the bondage of sin?
As he was called to endure arrest, scourging, humiliation and crucifixion, we are called to accept the liberty wherewith, by doing so, He makes us free. Because of His love, our yoke is easy, our burden light — just as He said (Matthew 11:28–30). We have nothing more to do than let the spirit of Christ that dwells within us dissociate us from our sins, so that our communion with Him becomes our all in all.
This does not mean abandoning those who, like ourselves, fall short of the glory Christ has attained for us. It does mean acknowledging that their shortcomings misrepresent our vocation in Christ. Like the eye whose sight induces the body to sin, the sight of them belies the truth of God's salvation in Jesus Christ, on offer to all who seek and are willing to find their rest in Him. In consequence, we must pray for all the offending clergy in the words of the Psalm (109:8): "May another take his office."
With this prayer, we seek to restore the Body of Christ to its true vocation. It, therefore, aims to fulfill His vocation for of love and mercy, not destruction. By asking God to renew the face of the Church, it may grow again in Christ, conforming to His love and strength and wisdom. So the abundant grace of God may come upon us, as upon Christ in His birth and youth, His ministry and passion.
And if, eschewing the false sorrow and resentment that attends the "loss" of sinful self-idolatry and indulgence, our erring brethren pray the Publican's prayer to God for mercy — as, by Christ's instruction, we all should — we dare not assume that will not entertain the plea. For in the person of His Son, He has, even before we ask, proven Himself disposed to grant it. For the discipline of Christ is the love of God. It binds the heart to act on His goodwill. It abolishes the slavery of sin, so as "to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace."
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