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On the Outside Looking In

We hear the words of the Gospel read to us from a pulpit and commented upon in a sermon every Sunday. For those of us born into the Faith, this has been going on for as long as we can remember. What effect has it had? Has it helped us to become perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect? This is the reason for our existence, the command we have received directly from Our Lord.

Is it not more often the case that after we fulfill our obligation as specified by Church law, we then get on with our lives without much reference to anything we have heard from the pulpit.  A faint glow of sanctification may hover about us as we leave the church, but it tends to evaporate even before we’ve exited the parking lot.

Then, it is life as usual: beer and sports and television shows and films full of obscene language and indecent images; money-making and money-managing and career ambitions. We tend to live as people who have never heard the Gospel, or who have heard it in passing without giving it much thought or practical application.

Faith tends to remain in its sequestered precinct: too seldom does it bleed into life proper, life as it is lived moment by moment, day by day. I don’t expect that this general situation will change, but I do wonder whether there is a way for me – and for you – to live differently, as though Our Lord and His words matter all the time, in every situation.

The saints found a way. As far as I can understand it, the secret to sanctity seems to be this: to listen to Our Lord as though He were speaking directly to me.  For the truth is that He is speaking directly to me. This puts me in a corner, with no way out: I must either obey Our Lord, doing what He has directly told me to do; or I must turn away.

There appears to be a middle way, however, and it is this middle way that most people will take, for it puts us at a remove from direct communication with the Creator and Redeemer and makes obedience a less pressing demand.  The middle way is to pretend that Our Lord does not speak directly to me, but to a special class of people chosen to be His interlocutors and interpreters. The counsel of perfection applies to them, not to me. I then get to continue to live my worldly life without undue interference.

We might call this middle way the “outside-looking-in” school of religion. It makes us bystanders in the spiritual life, occasionally stepping forward to assume a role in baptism or marriage or burial of the dead. Some priests have ruefully described the Church’s function in the life of many laymen in three words: hatch, match and dispatch.

To limit our reflection on the Gospel to a brief Sunday sermon, often delivered in a rather uninspired and uninspiring way, is to become spiritually anemic. We may appear robust and full of health in the flesh, yet be walking through this world with a starved soul, barely kept alive by the meanest nourishment while it stands in full view of the most lavish table set expressly for it. But many may not be entirely to blame for their lack of enthusiasm for the Faith.

What are the prospects for the spiritual life of a soul fed on what takes place inside a typical church on Sunday? Will Father Feelgood with his lay lectors and eucharistic ministers and altar girls and saccharine Tiny Tim blessings communicate to us the radical rebirth into eternal life that is offered us by Our Lord? Will we learn there that we are invited to a Divine intimacy that will transform our being now and forever?

It is not that we are likely under any circumstances to have a Road-to-Damascus moment such as St. Paul experienced, but we must have something near to it. And we must have it repeatedly, for deep habits have formed a crust over our hearts that needs to be hammered loose and torn away. A passage must be opened through which we can go out of our self – our small self – and enter into the heart of Christ.

So often we hear that we should let God into our heart. But our heart is too cramped a place to accommodate God. It is rather that we must find our way into the heart of God, our true home, where there is endless space in which to grow in love, into our God-given nature. Christ is the vine, we are the branches. We must be in Him, rather than force Him into us. We can only bear fruit if we are in Him. The branch cannot become the vine.

Much of the spiritual malaise of the post-conciliar Church and the modern world has to do with trying to make man the measure of things. We try to make Christ conform to our understanding, our notion of what is good. To force God into our heart is to insist that He bless our desires, that our will be done. We are called to enter His heart; to make His will our will.

The corruption of the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy is a hideous spectacle. It grows day by day. We struggle to understand it. How can these men, pledged to be shepherds of souls, to conform their lives to Christ in service to His children, have become so depraved, so hypocritical? How do they live with themselves?

We know that no one does what might be called pure evil, for pure evil does not exist. Evil is always a corruption of what is good. These perverted priests and their bishops must have convinced themselves that, somehow or other, their actions were justified. Horrible as it seems to us, they must have believed that God, if indeed they believe in God, had given them permission to act as they did. Someone once said the mind is satan’s lawyer.

Father Benedict Groeschel, former superstar of EWTN television, had to be scrubbed from their programming after he gave an interview in which he said that children can be very seductive and that, in some cases of sexual abuse, it was the naïve priest who should be regarded as the victim, not the minor. He died not long after he made his infamous statements.

Damage controllers explained that Groeschel was very old and had been in a traffic accident from which he had never quite recuperated; his mental clarity was said to be diminished or affected. But his impolitic admission revealed something crucial to understanding the current crisis in the Church: there is little genuine repentance and a great deal of rationalization among many in the clergy. Those whom we see as monsters, some bishops see as unfortunate colleagues who were indiscreet. They are good men who allowed their inclinations too free a rein. Their bishops wanted (and still want) to protect them, not their victims.

These corrupt priests and bishops have forced Christ into the narrow, dark and twisted corridors of their own hearts and extorted a blessing from Him. But, of course, it is not Christ that dwells in their hearts, but an impostor.

Now, it is easy to see how priests and bishops have betrayed their vocations. It is less easy to see how we do the same. In all honesty, can we say that we are not in some measure to blame for the tolerance of these perverted priests? If we were deep in Christ, would we have entrusted ourselves and our children to these shallow and hypocritical sexual deviants? The Holy Ghost in us would have sounded a warning, or so it seems to me.

The time has come when spiritual mediocrity will not suffice. The lukewarm are being vomited out of Our Lord’s mouth. This is a graphic, indeed, a repellant image, and Our Lord meant it to be. We can no longer take the middle way. We cannot continue to be bystanders of the spiritual life, assuming that Our Lord is not speaking directly to us, not calling us personally to perfection.

The hour has come when the Church must be cleansed, one way or another. But unless we are cleansed first, this needed purification will likely not happen. A tree is known by its fruit. If our roots are deep in Christ, the priests that grow upon the branches of our families will be wholesome and holy men. We will be known through them, and they, in turn, will serve us. The Mystical Body will be well in all its parts.

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