Occasion: Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time
You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Epistle, Ephesians 5:15-20.
Brothers and sisters:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks always and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
Stand-Out Words and Phrases
the days are evil, debauchery, giving thanks always and for everything
“The days are evil.”
St. Paul wrote these words roughly two thousand years ago in reference to the culture of the Roman Empire, but they seem to hold in every age. The Church seems darkened by a shadow of evil, and while many of the clergy have been forthright about it, some of the more influential ones can’t be bothered even to name it as evil. Perhaps, when they read this passage, they hear the same thing I once heard one homilist state: that St. Paul is “just telling us to relax.”
I beg to differ. “Telling us to relax” has led to a sanctuary darkened by yet more smoke. Bishops and cardinals appointed by Pope St. John Paul II himself not only knew of this darkness, they hid it or embraced it. Tell me again how we should relax in the face of this evil.
It would be worth our while to review some of the verses that precede today’s reading:
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.
“Expose them.” Those who fight to expose the misdeeds of clergy do us all a favor in bringing their works of darkness into the light. To the contrary, certain bishops threatened such people — including fellow clergy — with legal action, or referred to them in internal correspondence as “squealers”. It is not at all unreasonable to demand that McCarrick’s close associates, whose careers the current Pope has favored, speak a little more honestly about the gravity of his debauchery.
Is there hope in this, or should one give up on the Church, possibly on Christianity itself, and join the swelling ranks of the Nones who actually desire spirituality?
I would answer no, and point to the following signs of hope.
- Unlike previous scandals, McCarrick was not exposed by the media. The Church itself exposed McCarrick to shame and announced the problem. This is an enormous improvement over fifteen years ago, when the Boston Globe began its series of articles on the scandals in the Boston archdiocese. Instead we have learned that at least one prominent media publication had at least one opportunity to expose him, and elected not to do so.
- The Church’s history shows repeatedly that She rises from scandal to renewed life. Things have been worse in the past! Yet God’s light triumphs over darkness. St. Paul himself frequently battled those who wanted to reduce Christianity to a flavor of Judaism, and at one point told the Corinthians in regards to an open, unrepentant adulterer to “purge the evil” from their midst. (Would that we had more bishops who felt this way, rather than in the thrall of a false sense of mercy that hesitates even to name evil for what it is.) Similarly, Dominican Laity can take inspiration from one of their own, St. Catherine of Siena, who had no qualms taking clergy to task for their misbehavior.
- Much of the despair is accompanied by the recitation of rumors regarding the situation in American seminaries. I’d like to address this from personal experience. I spent the better part of a decade trying to find my vocation in consecrated life or diocesan ministry, and never quite succeeded. I visited abbeys, priories, houses of formation, and inner-city missions, and managed to do rather well academically in one year at one of the largest seminaries in the nation. Eventually I found my vocation in a wife and children, in a manner that I had never really expected.
That seminary seems to have a bad reputation among many orthodox or conservative Catholics, perhaps because a 2003 book named it as having an open, “dominant culture” of unchastity. In the year and a half that I attended, I never once saw any of the activities the book describes as routine. If they were there, they certainly weren’t open. To the contrary, one of my most vivid memories is that of the formation director pointing out to us that, twenty years after he was told not to worry about celibacy because it would be removed as a requirement “any day now,” it was still a requirement. He related that he and many of his classmates had to struggle with poor formation on both celibacy and developing a prayer life, a mistake the seminary had no intention of repeating. Many of his classmates had left priesthood because on that account, and he concluded along these lines: “Get serious or get out.”
Near as I could tell, most of us were glad to hear the seminary would take this seriously. I heard of only one exception, and even that through the rumor mill. If true, I know he didn’t make it to ordination, not at our seminary anyway. (Then again, neither did I.)
The days are evil: they always are. What is St. Paul’s suggestion to us who live in evil days? The same as a good priest’s suggestion to me after I left seminary: pray! Address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; to sing and play to the Lord in our hearts; to thank God always and for everything. No matter how dark the world is, Christ’s light is still there, waiting to shine on us if we but turn to it — and the Hours, the “official prayer” of the Church, make this readily available.