There was a news item last week concerning an opinion survey.
It found that a shocking number of Catholics
have considered giving up their Catholic Faith,
in light of reports about scandalous behavior
by priests and neglect and coverups by bishops.
I have several reactions to this.
Part of me is shocked that so many people
would consider leaving their Catholic Faith behind.
For those who rarely come to Mass rarely, it was almost half.
For people who attend Mass weekly, it was over 20%.
That’s a lot of people. That’s both shocking and discouraging.
At the same time, there actually is something positive in this.
People are paying attention.
They are thinking about how this affects them. That is good!
This is not Pope Francis’ Church, or Archbishop Schnurr’s Church,
Or mine. The Catholic Faith belongs to ALL of us.
So while I understand the anger and the questioning – I’m angry too! –
the answer is not to walk away, but to fight!
Let me connect this to the readings a little;
and as a bonus, I can explain that first reading,
which is pretty obscure.
No doubt you’re wondering what is up
with the “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch,”
which passed between cut-up animal carcasses!
Oh, and just to lighten things a little.
You may remember that at one time,
this used to be translated, a “smoking brazier” –
which sometimes readers didn’t pronounce correctly,
and so it ended up sounding like an article of clothing,
and isn’t that a dramatic image!?
So, anyway, dead animals and a flaming torch – what’s up with that?
The ritual was that you cut up the animals,
and then, by walking between them,
it means, “may this happen to me if I break my word.”
The flaming torch? That stands for God.
In other words, God the Almighty was pledging himself to Abraham,
may I die rather than break my word!
Abraham must have wondered, how can God pay with his life?
But of course, you and I know the answer to that!
We know Jesus, who is God-become-man, who paid with his life!
That’s what’s going on behind the Gospel reading.
Just before he gives his Apostles this vision,
He had told them: they are on the way to Jerusalem, to the Cross.
That’s the “exodus” that he discusses with Moses and Elijah.
And that Exodus – that Passover – is what the Eucharist is all about.
Jesus is the Lamb who was slain, and we eat his body and blood.
And notice: God went beyond his word:
Because he kept his promise to Abraham; and still he died on the Cross!
This sacrifice of the Cross – this is what the Holy Mass is.
This is what we are privileged to share in each time we’re here.
So here’s the thing about these discouraging news items.
First, no matter what else you and I feel about all this,
The fact remains that this Faith, our Faith, is all about Jesus.
He came, he gave his life for us,
and he shares his Body and Blood with us.
God help me, God help me, but I can never leave that!
A second point. A parishioner said to me last week:
maybe this is what a purification looks like?
As awful as it is to see all filth aired out, it is needed.
And the upside is that this helps keep the pressure on
the pope and the bishops.
I do not say that with any disrespect.
Archbishop Schnurr has said he wants to be held accountable,
and he wants other bishops held accountable.
The more he hears from you? That helps him.
The Holy Father, I think, is surrounded by people who tell him,
this is just a few loud voices in the U.S.
The more you and I speak up, that will help the pope be strong.
What else do we do? This is the hardest work:
To help purify the Church, each of us must ourselves grow in holiness.
You might say, but it’s the bishops, the priests,
who need to be holier! And you are absolutely right.
But let me tell you, when a lazy priest or a business-as-usual bishop
spends time with the faithful who are fired up?
Something has to give.
One of the benefits for me being here is that you challenge me.
Lots of parish priests have a half-hour, or an hour of confessions.
When I arrived here, his parish had over five hours a week,
and you wanted even more!
For me, sitting in the confessional challenges me
to reflect on my own sins, and it keeps me going to confession.
I thank you for that.
So, you and I, like Jesus and the Apostles in the Gospel,
are drawing near Jerusalem. We are headed toward the Cross.
What we do in solemn ritual during Lent
is what each of us lives with every single day.
That’s why we do it here, so our lives make sense.
Every generation of Christians, in every culture,
lives in the shadow of that Cross.
For so many, it has been persecution.
For you and me, it is this excruciating purification.
Keep praying that God purifies his Church. His bishops and priests.
And remember what this Mass is.
Remember that when we take the Body and Blood of Jesus to our lips,
that is God keeping his solemn pledge to us.