REPENT! is the theme of this weeks Gospel. It is a call not only to individuals but to institutions, organizations, clubs, parishes and congregations as well.
As I walked into church one morning before Mass, I was met by Erik Eckholm, reporter from the New York Times, and a photographer. The conversation was pleasant; Erik and the photographer were courteous and professional. In light of everything that’s been reported about all that had been happening in Philadelphia over the past few years, he wanted to expand the conversation and look at some of the issues that we are facing from a different and broader perspective. His questions reflected that wish and, frankly, I found his line of questioning cogent, fair and profound.
One question that he raised struck me. He said that the Catholic Church is facing difficulties and challenges all over the country, a little bit here, a little bit there. Why did I think that ALL of the problems and issues have hit the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in such a concentrated way, all at the same time? A great question – to which I really did not have an answer.
Did not the “Chosen” people of the Hebrews and the Jews during the time of Jesus ask the same question?
Examine the story of the Hebrews of Old Testament times. They were chastised by God again and again when they got off track and did not repent (See this Sunday’s Gospel reading). Certainly people in positions of authority in the Catholic Church in the U.S., and around the world, have much to answer for and they are being held accountable for their actions (and, sometimes, lack thereof). But it doesn’t stop there. We are in a period where all of us members of the Church need to take a look at ourselves.
I recalled Archbishop Chaput from his speech in kicking off the “Fortnight for Freedom” in Indiana. He captured what I am feeling:
“We need to look honestly at the arc of Catholic history in our country. The lessons may not be comforting. American Catholics began as an unwelcome minority. The Church built her credibility by defending and serving her people. She developed her influence with the resources her people entrusted to her. A vast amount of good was done in the process. We need to honor that. But two other things also happened. The Church in the United States became powerful and secure. And Catholics became less and less invested in the Church that their own parents and grandparents helped to build.
I think it’s fair, in part, to blame Church leaders for a spirit of complacency and inertia, clericalism, even arrogance, and for operating off a model of the Church–often for well-intentioned reasons–rooted in the past and out of touch with reality. But there’s plenty of blame to go around. Too many ordinary Catholics have been greedy, losing themselves in America’s culture of consumerism and success. Too many have been complicit in the dullness–the acedia–that has seeped into Church life, and the cynicism and resentment that naturally follow it.
These problems kill a Christian love of poverty and zeal. They choke off a real life of faith. They create the shadows that hide institutional and personal sins. And they encourage a paralysis that can burrow itself into every heart and every layer of the Church, right down to individual Catholics in the pews. The result is that Philadelphia, like so much of the Church in the rest of our country, is now really mission territory–again; for the second time.”