21 February 2010. 1st Sunday of Lent
Deut 26, 4-10; Psalm 91; Romans 10, 8-13; Luke 4, 1-13
If you felt ashamed about the Catholic faith, at any point in your life, I understand. I said that I empathize with you because there many things that has happened that we are not proud of. We are sad about the many scandals that rocked the Church; the many decisions individual members of the hierarchy take that hurt not just the people they pastor, but their fellow members as well.
When I was fresh from ordination, I felt this shame too. It’s like our family’s dark secret: even if you’re not the one who made the mistake, you feel that you are part of it because you are part of the family. We all hold the brunt of the family member’s indiscretion because we belong in the family; just as we also share their successes.
Moreover, to bring the secret into the light is unsettling. When Pope Benedict XVI apologized to the victims of sexual abuse by clerics in Australia on 19 July 2008, we suffered from many opinions and comments around the world. Pope John Paul II also apologized for the Church’s historical sins on 12 March 2000. He said, “We humbly ask for forgiveness for the part that each of us with his or her behaviors has played in such evils thus contributing to disrupting the face of the church. At the same time, as we confess our sins let us forgive the faults committed by others towards us.”
It is disorienting and humbling because in admitting our faults, we put ourselves at the mercy of everyone and we are not to defend ourselves. It kills whatever arrogance and pride we have. We become vulnerable: it destroys the walls we built in our lifetime to protect ourselves. We are giving ourselves to die defenseless from the jeers of the atheists, of Catholic-haters, and the like. We feel like the adulteress in the Gospels: she can’t do anything but take the stones being hurled at her. But good for her, there was Jesus who challenged the Pharisees: Let the sinless cast the first stone.
And so professing our belief in Jesus Christ within this flawed Church is a daunting thing to do. So how do we profess our belief in Christ and this Church we belong to?
First, don’t defend our sins. When we ask for forgiveness, we just bow our heads and say, “Yes, it is my fault. Period.” In a final attempt to protect ourselves even in confession, we try to justify our sins to appear less culpable.
Second, a change of perspective is good: we never professed a perfect Church because it is obviously broken, cracked, torn, scratched, deformed, distorted, and warped. But we are moving towards perfection. We are pilgrims who rise and fall most of the time, but learn from the mistakes we’ve done. We shouldn’t justify the sins we’ve committed, but it would be a tragedy to be paralyzed by it, especially in our effort to become just as Christ wants us to be. What our popes did allowed the Church to move on. Asking for forgiveness and forgiving the ones who are hostile to us is doing what Christ wants us to do.
Third, keep in mind Christ. Our sins and the accompanying guilt can distract and discourage us from our pursuit to be like Christ. The content of our faith, the principles which the Church upholds remain valid: the call to conversion, the preferential option for the poor, the hierarchy of values, etc. These should encourage us to put more effort in living them.
Think of our family. Do we abandon our loved ones because they have done something that we are not proud of? We carry the burden, but we continue to protect and love them. People who abandon ship does not love much.
And because there is much to be desired, then there is space for me — and you — in the Church. I like to feel useful in a group of imperfect individuals, than be in a group of people who believe they’re perfect and flawless.