Thursday, September 20, 2018

Complaints and Complicity

Seeing our own faults as we notice those of others
Luke 7:36-50 A certain Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner." Jesus said to him in reply, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. "Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days' wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?" Simon said in reply, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven." He said to him, "You have judged rightly."

Many years ago I learned a clever little come-back when someone complains about me or criticizes me. I would say: “It takes one to know one.” That is, if you lay blame on me for being lazy or protest that I am prejudiced, then I reply, “Takes one to know one,” meaning there’s a little laziness and prejudice in the accuser, too. Every complaint carries within it a little complicity; every accusation is always strangely autobiographical.

The classic example of the complicity of complaining is Queen Gertrude’s now infamous line in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Hamlet believes his uncle murdered his father and married his mother, Gertrude. Hamlet wants to induce the guilty couple to confess their sins so he shows them a play in which an almost identical incident unfolds, especially the player queen who expresses undying love for her husband. At that moment, Hamlet asks his mother, “Madam, how do you like this play?” To which, the real queen irritatedly responds, “The lady dost protest too much, methinks” (Hamlet, III, 2). Gertrude’s complaint about the play unveiled her complicity; she did not love her own husband (Hamlet’s father) as much as she should have. There can be found an autobiographical element in every accusation. Why? Well, because it always takes one to know one.

The gospel gives us another glimpse of the complicity contained in every complaint when Jesus dines at the home of a leading Pharisee, Simon. A sinful woman bursts into the formal dinner and bursts open an alabaster jar of ointment to bless Jesus’ feet. The jar was a symbol of her heart that burst with love for the Lord, but the Pharisee felt nothing. Instead, he complains in his own mind about Jesus and the sinner: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Notice the complicity of guilt in the Pharisee’s complaint: he believes Jesus cannot tell a sinner when he sees one. But Jesus has not missed that the Pharisee is himself a sinner, and so tells a short story about two people forgiven their debts – much like the play Hamlet had devised – to reveal the guilt of the Pharisee. In other words, there was something autobiographical in the accusation of the Pharisee standing in self-righteous judgment over the sinful woman, namely, that he, too, is a sinner. It always “takes one to know one.” That does not mean you are the exact same sort of person, but it does mean you struggle with your own sins. We are all sinners, and every complaint and accusation reveals a little of our complicity and our autobiography.

Tomorrow our deanery will observe a day of prayer and penance to respond to the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Some people may wonder: “Why should I do penance when I did not abuse a child? If I am not guilty of that sin and scandal, why must I fast and abstain?” Well, each member of the church makes up a part of the Body of Christ, as St. Paul eloquently explains in 1 Corinthians 12. We celebrate victories together and we endure failures together. Further, St. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:24, “I fill up in my own flesh what is lacking the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” We suffer for each other, even the innocent for the guilty, like parents who suffer for the sins of their children.

But there is another reason for this day of prayer and penance, namely, no one is entirely innocent or guilt-free when it comes to sin. We should not hesitate to call sin a sin, especially child abuse and cover up, but in the same breath we should not be shy to accuse ourselves as sinners, too, as Simon the Pharisee should have done. While we tell Jesus to be sure and notice what terrible sinners some priests and bishops are, realize Jesus is also acutely aware of what terrible sinners you and I are as well. In our own ways, perhaps not as egregiously as the clergy who abused minors, we have sinned sexually, we have abused power, we have manipulated others, we have lied to conceal our faults. Every time someone opens their mouth to utter a complaint against someone, they likewise manifest a little of their own complicity.

When Gertrude complained: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks!” it was really Gertrude who was protesting too much. It was her guilt that was on display. Be careful the next time you want to wag your finger in front of someone’s nose and complain about their behavior; there are always three fingers pointing back at you.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Sabbath of Sabbaths

Seeing Yom Kippur through Christian eyes
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 Brothers and sisters: Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Much of the fruit we bear as Christian trees comes from our Jewish roots. Have you started to notice how many of your personal traits and traditions are thanks to your parents proclivities? Let me tell you about one Catholic custom that comes from our Hebrew heritage. We will treat this coming Friday, September 21, as a Day of Prayer and Penance to atone for the clergy abuse scandal. But we did not invent that idea of prayer and penance out of thin air. Rather, we actually are reaching back into an ancient Jewish tradition called “Yom Kippur” or “Day of Atonement.” And this year, 2018, Yom Kippur is observed today, September 19, and that is why I am mentioning it. Understanding the Jewish faith a little better will help you deepen your Christian faith, just like studying your genealogy helps you know yourself better.

Let me just tell you two things about Yom Kippur, namely, the meaning of the penance and the prayer that are central today. First the penance consists of five practices of self-punishment. (1) No eating or drinking, (2) no wearing leather shoes, (3) no bathing or washing (that should be easy for some of you), (4) no anointing oneself with lotions or perfumes (no Axe body spray for men), (5) no marital relations. If you do not know what “marital relations” are, please ask Mrs. Kay Williams, who teaches health. Don’t ask me, I’m just a priest. These five penances were self-imposed punishments.

Secondly, the prayer consisted of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies and sprinkling the blood of a bull (not a buffalo) before the Ark of the Covenant, and offering incense. The priest killed a bull because the people worshiped a golden bull on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 32. Just like an alcoholic must sacrifice beer and wine because he once worshiped it (he was a slave to it) , so the people sacrifice a bull because they once worshiped it (they were slaves to it). The penance and prayer, therefore, were remedies for disordered love: the Jews had loved God too little, and they had loved the bull too much. In other words, the penance and prayer was to get their love back on track. Yom Kippur was to rehabilitate love, and that same purpose motivates our Day of Prayer and Penance on Friday, because the clergy have loved minors and small children way too little, and so have some bishops who covered up those crimes, and loved other people’s opinions of them too much.

In today’s celebrated passage of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – a popular pick for weddings – we hear that penance is for the sake of correcting misdirected love. St. Paul writes: “If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” That is, we pray and we do penance so we learn to love better. If our self-imposed punishments this coming Friday did not help us love more, it would be a waste of time.  Learning to love is the point of penance.

Boys and girls, Yom Kippur helped the Jews to recognize when they loved something too little or loved something too much, and it helped them get their love back on track. Our Day of Prayer and Penance is to atone for the lack of love by clergy toward minors. But it should also make all of us ask ourselves: have I ever loved too little, or loved too much?

Some students may love themselves too little. For example, some engaging in cutting themselves, and punishing themselves by wounding themselves on their arms or legs. Other students beat themselves up when they make mistakes in sports or band or cheer or dance. Midterms grades just came out: are your satisfied with your grades, or are you being too hard on yourself even though you gave it your best? Be careful not to love yourself too little.

Other students may love other people’s opinions too much, and only care what others say. Peer pressure is powerful in junior high, but it too is simply love gone wild. Have you ever used snapchat to belittle other students, while trying to make yourself look big? That is loving other people’s opinions too much. Sometimes we have to sacrifice what we worship because we love it too much, like the Jews sacrificed bulls and alcoholics sacrifice beer. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, a day of practicing prayer and penance to learn to love better. That is why we need a Christian Yom Kippur this coming Friday. When we love perfectly, we will no longer need self-imposed punishments.

I tend to compare the Jewish Yom Kippur to our Christian Good Friday because that is our Christian day of suffering and sacrifice and we feel sad. But the Jews did not look at it that way at all; they called Yom Kippur the “Sabbath of Sabbaths,” or as we might say the “Sunday of Sundays” - a day of celebration and rejoicing. Why? Well, we read in the Jewish Talmud: “This holiday is happy because it brings about reconciliation with God and with other people. Thus, if they have observed it properly, many people feel a deep sense of serenity by the end of the fast.” In other words, the purpose of prayer and penance is happiness and peace. Christians can learn a lot about themselves by looking at our Jewish genealogy.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Calling All Catholics!

Announcing a Deanery Day of Prayer and Penance

We invite all Catholics in the greater Fort Smith-Van Buren area to a “Day of Prayer and Penance” for the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. First and foremost we will pray for healing for the victims, and secondly, for renewal in the Catholic Church.

We will retrieve an ancient biblical practice of fasting and abstinence (see Jesus’ fasting in the desert in Mt. 3), and treat Friday, September 21, 2018 essentially like Good Friday. That is, we will abstain from eating meat and eat only one normal meal and two smaller meals (think: two snacks) that day.
At 6 p.m. Friday evening, the priests of the deanery will celebrate a Mass at Christ the King in honor of St. Matthew (whose feast day is Sept. 21), and for the intention of “reparation of sins.” Immediately following the Mass, we will hold a Holy Hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a period of silence, and recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Finally, we suggest you consider the on-going personal penance of abstaining from meat on all Fridays, as well as possibly daily recitation of the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, ideally included at the end of the Rosary. These practices are part of the much-needed spiritual renewal of the Church.

When the disciples could not expel an especially stubborn demon, they were perplexed and asked, “Why could we not expel it?” Jesus answered them, “This kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:21). May our prayer and fasting rid the Church of the stubborn demon of sexual abuse!

Sorrow and Strength

Learning maternal love in the midst of the clergy crisis
John 19:25-27 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

We can find few things in this world as strong and sturdy as a mother’s love for her child. The prophet Isaiah even employed it as an analogy for how great God’s love is, asking rhetorically: “Can a mother forget her infant or be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget I will never forget you.” That is, God’s love surpasses even a mother’s love, incredible as that is to imagine.

But there is a downside to such strong love, namely, severe sorrow. The more perfect the love the more piercing the sorrow. Those who experience great love will also experience great sorrow, and no one knows that better than a mother when she sees her child suffer. I have witnessed the depths of maternal sorrow born of maternal love watching my sister-in-law’s anguish in losing her first born son. Those who love much are susceptible to suffer much.

I think new light can be shed on the clergy abuse scandal if we look at it through the eyes of a mother, and through the heart of a mother. Would the cries and claims of innocent victims have fallen on deaf ears if the Church had listened with a mother’s love? Pope Francis said clericalism lies at the core of the clergy abuse crisis which is essentially a lack of maternal love. On August 25 in Ireland, the Holy Father said: “Sexual abuse is the consequence of abuse of power and of conscience…The abuse of power exists. Who among us does not know an authoritarian bishop? Forever in the Church there have been authoritarian bishops and religious superiors. And authoritarianism is clericalism” (Crux, Sept. 13, 2018). Pope Francis suggests that if bishops had possessed the tender love of a mother, the clergy crisis could have been crushed before it commenced. Bishops should have felt the fury of a momma bear when her cubs are threatened. The strength of a mother’s love could have prevented the sorrow of the clergy crisis.

September 15 is the annual celebration of Our Lady of Sorrows and highlights how much a mother can suffer because of how much a mother can love. Traditionally, the Church meditates on seven sorrows of Mother Mary. They are: (1) the prophesy of Simeon predicting the sword piercing Mary’s heart, (2) the flight into Egypt, (3) the loss of the child Jesus in the Temple, (4) Jesus and Mary meeting on the way of the Cross, (5) the crucifixion on Calvary, (6) the taking down of Jesus’ body from the Cross, called in Greek “apokathelosis,” and (7) the burial of Jesus in a new tomb. Even though Mary did not become a momma bear as she watched her Son’s suffering on Golgotha, her immaculate heart must have shattered into a million pieces every time the hammer hit the nail in Jesus’ hands. How much every mother’s heart hurts when she beholds her child’s pain and feels powerless to protect him or her! A mother’s heart loves her child like no other heart, but Mary’s heart loved most perfectly because she had no sin and neither did her Son. Perfect love suffers the most profound sorrow. The strength of love also makes inevitable the sorrow of love.

May I suggest that Mother Mary be our teacher in learning lesson of love, especially its strength and its sorrows? I think we can learn at least three lessons meditating on Mary’s heart and her sorrows. First, Mary can give us fresh eyes on how to deal with the clergy crisis, both by looking backward and seeing what went wrong, and by looking forward and seeing what needs to be set right. She can counteract that uncaring clericalism in the Church with the strength of maternal love. Second, she can help us be open to the contribution of women in understanding and growing in faith and fortitude. Pope St. John Paul II coined the catchy phrase “feminine genius.” We priests must listen and learn from women, especially mothers because they can enormously enrich the Church’s faith and fortitude. Put simply: a mother never stops loving. And third, mothers can help us prepare policies and procedures to protect the innocent and prosecute and punish the guilty. Mothers have an innate sense of justice and fairness as they adjudicate disputes like Judge Judy with their children, who often interact like plaintiff and defendant in the domestic courtroom. Mothers are great judges.

Love is a two-sided coin: on the one side is strength and on the other side is sorrow. Those who love much will suffer much sorrow. If you are feeling deep sorrow dealing with the clergy crisis, take heart – that means you have great love. But not as much love or sorrow as Mother Mary.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hierarchy and Lowerarchy

Learning how to love the sinner and hate the sin in this crisis
Luke 6:27-38 Jesus said to his disciples: "To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. "Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."

Last week a priest friend of mine made an astute observation about the clergy abuse scandal. He remarked that while the scandal in 2002 focused on the failure of priests in protecting minors, the present scandal zeros in on bishops and their blunders in both protecting children and punishing priests. You might say the bishops are the “hierarchy” while the priests are the “lowerarchy.” Both levels of church leadership have evinced egregious failures in governing the faithful. As you know, the suffix “archy” means to rule, to govern. Now, it is true that Christians are called to love the sinner even as we hate the sin, but in the case of clergy sexual abuse, I am afraid we have not hated the sin enough, and we have been too eager to love the sinner. Indeed, the ones we have failed to love the most are the victims who have suffered, and still do, in irremediable ways.

Many years ago I read an insightful essay by C. S. Lewis called “The Trouble with X.” He argued that while we work to correct other people’s faults, we not overlook our own. Our own sins are the ones we are in the best position to correct, and really the only ones we can correct. Lewis wrote: “That is the next step in wisdom – to realize that you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character. All the hopes and plans of others have again and again shipwrecked on your character just as your hopes and plans have shipwrecked on theirs.” When I read that line, we I felt exactly the same as I did at the end of the movie “Sixth Sense,” when Bruce Willis finally figures out he, too, is one of those dead people the little boy is seeing and helping. It was memorable moment of self-awareness. The one single person toward whom we find no difficulty at all in loving the sinner but hating the sin is the one staring back in the mirror, ourselves. And there, too, we fall woefully short of hating the sin enough - meaning we excuse ourselves too easily - just like with the clergy abuse crisis.

Jesus speaks categorically and clearly about not judging others in the gospel of Luke, but we should be careful not to take his words too far. Our Lord teaches: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” But Jesus did not therefore mean, “live and let live,” or the trite slogan, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Recall how relentlessly Jesus excoriated the Jewish leadership, both hierarchy and lowerarchy, Pharisees and scribes, calling them “white washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones” in Matthew 23. In other words, while Jesus loved the sinner – he cannot help himself since he is the love of the Father made flesh – he was nevertheless merciless on the sin itself. That delicate balance of both judgment and mercy, accountability and compassion, should govern our attitude in approaching the clergy sexual abuse crisis and in assessing our own personal sins and failures. Love the sinner, yes, but truly and tirelessly hate the sin, especially when we find sin in our own hearts.

May I ask you to pray for all the victims of this abuse crisis, those for whom we have lacked enough love to take their claims seriously? But I also beg your prayers for the whole Church, in particular for the priests and bishops, the lowerarchy and hierarchy, that we not love the sinner too much and hate the sin too little. We have been guilty of that lately. We are enduring a time of profound crisis, to be sure, but it also holds the hope of being a moment of great renewal. We are witnessing the dawning of the awareness that no one is above the law, not even those entrusted with administering the laws of God. Everyone is being held accountable in the court of public opinion, that is, in the social media and in the printed press.

But I would also suggest to you, like C. S. Lewis urged, even if we somehow eschew the court of public opinion, we still drag ourselves into the court of personal opinion. That we be our own toughest critic, our own judge, jury and executioner, and relentlessly hate our own sins while we love the sinner in the mirror. And that goes for the hierarchy and the lowerarchy, too.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Feeling Catholic

Learning to let go to feelings to find our faith
Luke 6:20-26 Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.  For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.

Almost overnight it feels very different to be a Catholic. To be honest in the past few weeks I have experienced the full range of feelings – from anger to sadness to bewilderment to betrayal – and now mostly I just feel numb. Maybe you felt a lot of emotions as you watched the news yesterday about our bishop’s decision to release the names of priests who have been credibly accused of child abuse. Even though the actual publication of that news occurred on Monday, it did not become widespread and commonplace until yesterday, ironically, on the infamous date of September 11.

John Allen Jr., a well-respected reporter on Catholic news, made that connection between our country and our Church on this date. He wrote: “If Church leaders were to stay in this pensive mood for a bit and play out the comparison to 9/11, it might be worth considering whether, in either case, the institutions targeted have truly learned their lessons” (Crux, September 12, 2018). One implication of such a comparison might be that just as many Americans felt numb after 9/11, so many Catholics may feel bereft of emotions after our own 9/11, however imprecise that comparison maybe.

Up until I watched last night’s newscast, I always felt proud and pleased to be a priest, but afterwards, I felt ashamed and awkward. I can’t help but wonder what people think when they see me in public with my Roman collar. I could safely assume in the past that most people held Catholic priests in high esteem, but now I suspect they hold us in low esteem or no esteem. But one good thing has come from this flood of feelings, and that is I remembered that true faith does not rest on our feelings but on a fact: God’s love for us manifest in Jesus, who suffered, died and rose again for us. Once all our feelings fly away, when we feel nothing at all and are numb, we can discover our faith again, faith in the person of Jesus.  And it is our faith that is fundamental.

Jesus knew we might rely too much on our feelings instead of real and raw faith so he predicted times like today, when we would not feel very good about being his followers. Our Lord taught: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and be glad on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” Obviously, Jesus is not referring to the clergy guilty of child abuse, but we know how a few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch, and all Catholics are seen by some outside the Church as guilty by association, at least we Catholic priests are. But Jesus’ larger point is that it will not always feel good to be his disciple, but in precisely those moments we will be blessed because we will have found faith in him, and no longer follow our Lord for a feeling.  Faith, and not our feelings, is what is fundamental.

Folks, how are you feeling about your faith in these troubling times? Are you glad or sad or mad? Or maybe you are like me and feel numb, emotionally exhausted, and just wish we could finish this chapter and turn this page of church history and move on. But maybe we should stop and reflect in the middle of this crisis and focus on our feelings, or the lack of feeling, and realize that faith was never a feeling at all. Rather, faith is an act, a choice, a response of love to Someone who has loved us first, Jesus. Every romantic relationship reaches a pivotal point when the feelings fail and then the couple must make a choice to move forward without the feelings that sustained them thus far. I would suggest to you that is when the real relationship is born, when true love enters the picture. It is only when our feelings fail us that we find true love, and our faith.

Let me conclude with a line from Scott Hahn’s book called The Creed, where he indicates the inestimable value of faith for a Christian. Hahn wrote: “To confess the faith of Christians was a matter of enormous consequence. To confess faith in Jesus was to accept the stigma he bore – to agree to share his inglorious death – in hope of a share in his glorious Resurrection” (The Creed, 33). In other words, sometimes we have to forget our feelings in order to find our faith. And it is our faith that will save us, not our feelings.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Fog and Faith

Navigating through the fog of this world with faith
Luke 6:6-11 On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him. But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, "Come up and stand before us." And he rose and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" Looking around at them all, he then said to him, "Stretch out your hand." He did so and his hand was restored. But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Are you familiar with the word “perspicacious”? You can really impress your friends at cocktail parties if you casually use it in a sentence. It means “having a ready insight into and understanding of things.” It is the uncanny ability to pierce and penetrate the veil of what is visible. Now the funny part is how the same person can be perspicacious about some things but oblivious about others.

When I was an associate priest I served under Msgr. Hebert in Little Rock, who was a gourmet chef, and also perspicacious about a great many other areas. I, however, was not. Whenever I returned from someone’s home for supper, he invariably inquired: “So, John, what did they serve for supper?” I scratched my head and replied: “Well, uh, they had some kind of meat, and maybe a vegetable, and I think we also had dessert.” Before I could finish my Pulitzer prize description, he put up his hand and said, “Stop. Just stop.” But even though I was “out to lunch” when it came to culinary details, I had a keen memory for conversations. I would warn my hosts: “Be careful what you say to me, it may end up in next Sunday’s sermon.” You can see how Msgr. Hebert’s words wound their way into today’s homily, as an aid to understanding. To be perspicacious, therefore, means an ability to perceive and penetrate beyond the veil that covers the visible world. In the spiritual world, such perspicacity is simply called “faith.”

The Pharisees are also perspicacious people, but tragically not about the right things. St. Luke explains in one line how misguided they were in using their gifts. When Jesus teaches in a synagogue on a Sabbath, a poor man with a withered hand is present. St. Luke writes: “The scribes and Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the Sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.” They want to be perspicacious, have ready insight and penetrate the veil of Jesus’ human nature, not in order to believe and convert, but in order to blame and condemn. Romano Guardini, put it picturesquely, writing: “The form of one approaching through a fog is at first ambiguous. It can be almost anyone. Only two will know him: he who loves him and he who hates him. God preserve us from the sharpsightedness that comes from hell” (The Lord, 299). The Pharisees blindly beheld Jesus, like I beheld a gourmet meal: with no insight or appreciation into what was placed before me, that is, no perspicacity, no faith. The only way to see through the fog is with faith.

The Catholic Church is contending with her own fog as we peer through the clergy abuse scandal. Bishop Taylor will meet with all the priests in Little Rock today to talk about how we will drive through this fog using our faith. Next Sunday, he will send a homily to be preached at all Masses so that our faith might dispel this fog of scandal, sin and sadness. Please pray for us priests.

Another cause of the fog is self-centeredness and a lack of other-centeredness. When we are too self-absorbed in a conversation – worrying about what we will say next – we cannot hear what other people say with their words. How often we feel someone is not really listening when we speak. Archbishop Sartain, our former bishop, said “a good priest not only contemplates the Scriptures, he must contemplate his people.” That can be applied to every Christian, and that keen insight would give us faith to see through the fog.

As you come forward to the altar for Communion in a few moments, ask yourself, “What do I see?” Are you like Msgr. Hebert and see a gourmet meal of faith, or are you like me and cannot see beyond the fog of bread and wine? Answering that question will tell you how spiritually perspicacious you are, whether your faith will help you navigate the fog of this life.

Praised be Jesus Christ!