A Church of Saints and Sinners
Deacon Keith A Fournier
( c ) Third Millennium, LLC
I don't think a day goes by any longer without hearing, reading or seeing bad news about the Church that exists to demonstrate and proclaim the "Good News" - how truly sad the current state of affairs has become.
For me this morning, it was a political cartoon in my local paper that brought the gravity of it all home. The cartoon pictured two Bishops. One was speaking to the other saying "OK, suppose you were caught molesting altar boys or having sex with other menthe Holy father has been very consistent on this. Under no circumstances should you be allowed to marry them"
Of course, there was nothing funny about the cartoon. In fact, it is anti-Catholic and blasphemous. The cartoonist had an agenda- as do some members of the Press in their recent reports concerning the Catholic Churches clear teaching concerning marriage, fidelity and family.
As I served the altar this morning I was deeply grieved by what this all reveals. We now live in the kind of climate that allows these types of cartoons to actually get placed in our newspapers. In fact, because of the horrible crisis of morality among a small minority of clergy, what Pope John Paul rightly called "the mystery of iniquity", some once ordained to lead us have contributed to fostering this kind of climate.
The fact is that our beloved Catholic Church is reeling from a scandal that has undermined her moral authority and has created an open season on this wonderful Church. The overwhelming majority of priests are faithful, sacrificial servants and they are also suffering deeply from the egregious sins of some of their brothers. Of course, the profane effort by this particular cartoonist was one more attempt to mock the Vatican's clearly written directive entitled "Considerations Regarding proposals the Give Legal recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Unions" and to undermine its vital purpose in a culture racing towards an implosion.
The argument revealed by the cartoon is an old one. The insinuation is that only "perfect" institutions (or perfect people) can comment on such issues. I recalled again the words of an old Pentecostal preacher I met when I was as a teenager, right before I came home to my Catholic faith. "Son, if you ever find the perfect church, don't join it" he opined, "it won't be perfect anymore." How true.
This beloved Church which, in the face of a wholesale rejection of truth by some in other Christian communities, had the courage to release such a clear, authoritative reaffirmation of Christian teaching, is, always has been, and will be until the return of her founder and Savior, a Church of saints and sinners. Yet, she continues on - sometimes in spite of even some of her leaders -to be an instrument from heaven for an earth in desperate need of truth.
Last night I watched the "Bishop elect" of another Christian community attempt once again to tell the world that, in his words, "God is doing something new." What he apparently means by that clichéd comment is that God has changed his mind about the heart of the claim of the Christian Church for two thousand years. The fact is that Christianity has always proclaimed that marriage is a special state, reserved for a man and a woman, ordered toward the communion of persons. He wants to tell the world that God has changed His mind about the clear teaching of the Church for two thousand years, written as well in the natural law, that conjugal love is to be sexually expressed in the conjugal act, and always open to new life.
This sadly deluded Christian, who in another age would have been called to repentance for apostasy, immorality and heresy, is now being held out as some new champion to the public. He is claiming, to all who will listen, and many will, that God has changed His mind about marriage being the rock of family and the unbroken understanding, confirmed by all social science, human reason and experience that the two parent heterosexual family is the safest place for children to be raised and where they can best flourish as human persons.
This is blasphemy. The irony is that the Christian way concerning faithful, monogamous marriage as the place for sexual intimacy, the communion of authentic married love and the begetting and rearing of healthy, happy children IS the new way. Yet, faithful orthodox Christians are being presented as somehow narrow and not liberated.
The current cultural situation we face as Christians in America is not an unfamiliar one - if we look at it in terms of Christian history. I do not care how "scientifically advanced" we think we have become, or how "modern" the issues purport to be, we humans do not really change all that much, at least without grace. The struggle we are engaged in as Christians in this culture still concerns a clash of world views, personal and corporate, and competing definitions of freedom.
The early Church was also sent into cultures filled with people who thought they were extremely "advanced" in light of the arts and sciences of their day. Yet, they practiced primitive forms of abortion and even "exposure", a practice of leaving unwanted children on rocks to be eaten by birds of prey or picked up by slave traders. To them, freedom was rooted in a notion of power over others and the right to do as they chose. These cultures and these practices were confronted by a new "way" called Christianity.
One has only to read the ancient Christian manuscripts such as the Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve) or the accounts of Justin Martyr or other early sources to read of cultures not unlike the one in which we live today, cultures of "use" where people were treated as property - cultures of excess where "freedom" was perceived as a power over others and unrestrained license masqueraded as liberty. In many of these cultures, homosexual sexual practices were prevalent.
These were called "pagan" cultures. In fact, the practices of these cultures sometimes seduced even Christian priests and leaders. When that happened these priests and leaders were considered to be apostate and called to serious repentance. When they taught their errors as "new ways" and held them out for others to emulate, they were called heretics.
The word "pagan" was not used as a disparaging term, but actually represented a pseudo-"religious" world view. I use it the same way in referring to our contemporary age as increasingly pagan. Many of the "gods" and goddesses" of this world view promoted these lives of selfish excess, homosexual practices, and hedonism masquerading as freedom. In fact the myths concerning them had them acting in much the same way. They have been reintroduced today, only the myths and statues are different.
The early Christians did not point the finger and rail against the "pagans" of their age. They did not present a "negative" message. They proclaimed the freedom found in Jesus Christ to all who would listen and demonstrated it in their compelling witness of life. They lived in monogamous marriages, raised their children to be faithful Christians and good citizens, and went into the world of their age, offering a new way to live. This "way" (which is what they first called the early Church) presented a very different world view than the one that the pagans embraced.
These early Christians, with joy and integrity, spoke and lived a different way in the midst of that pagan culture. As a result, they sometimes stirred up hostility. Some of them were martyred in the red martyrdom of shed blood. Countless more joined the train of what use to be called "white martyrdom", by living lives of sacrificial witness and service in the culture, working hard and staying faithful to the end of along life spent in missionary toil.
Slowly, not only were small numbers of "pagans" converted and baptized, but eventually their leaders and entire Nations followed suit. Resultantly, the Christian worldview began to influence the social order. The "clash of freedoms" continued, but the climate changed significantly. It was the Christian faith and the practices of these Christians that began to win the hearts of men and women. The cultures once enshrined to pagan practices, such as plural marriage, homosexuality, exposure and abortion began to change dramatically and this dynamic continued for centuries.
It was Christianity that taught such novel concepts as the dignity of every person and their equality before the One God. The Christians proclaimed the dignity of women, the dignity of chaste marriage and the sanctity of the family. It was Christianity that introduced the understanding of freedom not simply as a freedom from, but as a freedom for living responsibly and with integrity.
The Christians insisted that freedom must be exercised with reference to a moral code, a law higher than the emperor, or the sifting sands of public opinion. It was the Christians who understood that choice, rightly exercised, meant always choosing what was right and that the freedom to exercise that choice brought with it an obligation and concern for the other.
Their faith presented a coherent and compelling answer to the existential questions that plagued the ancients, such as why we existed and how we got here. What was the purpose of life? Questions like how evil came into the world and why we could not always make right choices? What force seemed to move us toward evil and how we could be set free from its power? Christian philosophy began to flourish and the arts also flourished under the Christian worldview. Philosophies of government and economic theory began to be influenced by these principles derived from a Christian worldview.
When priests, Bishops or other leaders succumbed to sin (wrong choices) and fell, they were rightly corrected and removed from leadership by the Church. When they actually taught that their error was "a new way", they were put outside of fellowship in order to secure their return to fidelity.
What we need is a new missionary age and new missionaries - men, women, children, families, lay faithful, and clergy, in every walk of life and profession, living the full Christian life. We need a true outbreak of holiness among all Christians. We need the kind of strong leadership that the Vatican demonstrated in issuing this powerful document. We need loving, firm Bishops and other Church leaders to rise to the challenge of the age.
Though we are a Church of saints and sinners, we have always managed to place the Saints in the right positions, just in the nick of time. We need to do so once again. That is why the selection of new Bishops by Pope John Paul II, right now, may be the most important act of his pontificate. That is also why all members of the Church need to pray and live what the Church has faithfully taught for two thousand years.
Even when not lived by some of her leaders, that message still sets people and entire cultures free. Faithful Christianity is still the truly new thing that God is doing. No matter what some modern pagans may try to argue (some even wearing collars), the worship of self, and giving in to disordered appetites is not the path to freedom but to misery and bondage.
We are a Church of saints and sinners. Let us pray for more saints and practice what we preach.
Deacon Keith A Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He is a constitutional lawyer and holds, along with his Juris Doctor, degrees in philosophy and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a Masters Degree in sacred theology from the Lateran Universities John Paul II Institute for studies on Marriage and Family. Deacon Fournier is one of the founders of the "Your Catholic Voice" movement and serves as the President of Your Catholic Voice Foundation.
Your Catholic Voice is a movement to promote faithful citizenship based on the fundamental truths of the Catholic Church relating to Life, Family, Freedom and Solidarity. For information go to Your Catholic Voice http://www.yourcatholicvoice.org
Your Catholic Voice Foundation
http://www.ycvf.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President, 757 546-9580
Church, Saints, Sinners, Catholic
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