Friday, September 6, 2013

HOMILY – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Next Saturday starts the third year of That Man Is You, which is an initiative to help the men of our parish to be the Christian men – fathers, husbands, co-workers – they are called to be. I invite you to join us next Saturday morning at 7:00 am. I say “us,” but admittedly I know that I will not be there every Saturday, just as I was not able to attend every session last year. I realized at some point last year that I was going each Saturday to become a better husband and father, and leaving my wife home with the boys on the one morning that she gets to sleep in, which is one of the few things she rarely gets to do and enjoys so much. So, I decided that one way I can be a better husband and father was to be at home on Saturday mornings to help out and allow my wife to enjoy a couple additional minutes of peace. If our almost two-year-old decides to sleep in past 6:30, I hope to be here often because I have learned a lot from this initiative and especially enjoyed the fellowship. But family is first – that is my first vocation – although I admit that I am not always good at finding that balance. It is for this very reason that I do believe strongly in the celibate priesthood. Yes, there are and have been married Catholic priests, even married Apostles. But, I believe that the fullest expression of what it means to be a priest is in being able to give oneself fully and completely in service to God and others. And with this point in mind, I turn to my last in the series of homilies I have been giving during this Year of Faith on some of the myths and misconceptions of the Catholic Church. This last myth, from Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book The Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church, is that “Priestly celibacy caused the crisis of sexual abuse of minors.” In debunking this myth, the evidence is substantial and confirmed by psychologists, researchers, and [even] insurance companies that priestly celibacy is not a risk factor for the sexual abuse of children. In saying this, I do not mean to excuse or belittle the reality and problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. Sexual abuse of a minor by anyone is intrinsically evil and a serious crime! No situation, no motive, or no excuse can justify or mitigate it. Dr. Kaczor responds to this myth more specifically by answering three specific questions: 1) Does priestly celibacy cause the sexual abuse? 2) Why are priests forced to be celibate? And 3) What caused the sex abuse crisis in the Church? And as in the past, the Sunday’s readings are most helpful to talking about this myth. So, first, Dr. Kaczor documents well in just a couple of pages that there is no evidence that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination – or indeed, than non-clergy – notwithstanding the persistent efforts of the news media to make this a crisis of celibacy, which again is unsupported. At is root, we can say that the abuse of a child is the failure to see the child as a person who is made by God, made in his image and likeness, made good. It is a failure to see the child as a person loved and who deserves to be treated with respect, care and dignity. It is a failure to see the child as a brother or sister in Christ. This is the same basis for the appeal St. Paul makes in today’s Second Reading. Paul is writing to a friend and fellow Christian who is also a slave-owner. Paul is appealing to his friend to treat his slave, who ran away to Paul and who Paul is now returning to his friend, to treat him no longer as a slave but more than a slave, [as] a brother, beloved especially [by Paul], but even more so [to be treated] as a man and in the Lord. Although a small minority of priest (less than 4%) have perpetrated sexual abuse, the vast majority of priests are innocent of these crimes and truly model the behavior Paul encourages in today’s Second Reading – treating all with love and respect, regardless of who they are. The question still remains for many: Why are Catholic priests forced to be celibate? Priests freely choose to embrace the commitment of celibacy for the sake of serving God in a heroic way. Dr. Kaczor equates such a choice to someone joining the military – in joining the priesthood or the military, a person volunteers for an arduous undertaking for the sake of being a part of something bigger than themselves in an extraordinary way. For a man to choose to be a celibate priest (or for that matter a woman to choose to be a celibate nun) is impossible if that person does not rely on God-given wisdom. This is in fact Solomon’s prayer in today’s First Reading. He is praying for God’s wisdom to be a just judge and effective leader. Absent such wisdom, we are timid, unsure, burdened, and weighed down – as Solomon reminds us in his prayer. Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel challenges us to consider what is required to make such a choice, it is Jesus who modeled perfectly obedience, humility, self-sacrifice and love by emptying himself and becoming man and by his death on the Cross for us. We cannot be foolish, half-hearted, irresponsible, reckless, or arrogant – such as a person who would build a tower without having all the money necessary to complete it, or to enter into battle without enough soldiers to win the fight. Only with the wisdom of God can one find great meaning and purpose, clarity and truth, confidence and certainty in something so radical and counter-cultural as the celibate priesthood or religious life. Only with God’s wisdom can a man or woman freely, with understanding and clarity, and even with great passion choose to live a celibate life. This leads to the final point: what caused the sex abuse crisis in the Church? As Dr. Kaczor points out: it was not celibacy that caused the problem, but rather a lack of celibacy. The primary cause of the problem rests with a small minority of clergy who radically contradicted the priestly vocation of loving, sacrificial service. Yes, celibacy is a sacrifice for many, it can even be considered a cross they bear. But recall, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. AND In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. Our priests are called a life of humble service to God and the Church – this is truly a vocation of service. Their total giving of self for God and the Church, albeit radical to many, is a beautiful expression of love, trust and hope – and for which I am most grateful. THANK YOU. Let us pray for our priest and bishops and religious men and women who have chosen or are discerning to live a celibate life in order to serve completely, obediently and humbly. May God grant them always the grace they need to remain faithful to their choice and humble in their service to God and others. And, echoing our opening prayer, may God look graciously upon them, that by their celibacy, they may receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance.