Monday, September 17, 2018

Wearing the Roman Collar as a witness to the faith, not just fashion statement.

Some of my lay friends have often commented on my sartorial choice of wearing my clerical black with the Roman collar almost all of the time.  Apart from being at the gym (they haven’t yet designed a gym outfit specifically for priests and religious), all who see me either in the church setting or even outside of it will know that I wear my Roman collar faithfully.  Why is that so?  Is it that I don’t have other clothes in my wardrobe?  Am I all that sartorially challenged?  

First of all, it is not about fashion.  My approach toward life needs to be something that says that my life is not about me.  My purposeful choice for God and his will has resulted in dedicating my life to the Church as a priest and to serve God’s purposes.  As such, this is demonstrated via my willingness to put aside what I prefer or what I want affecting even something as mundane as my choice of clothing.  It may seem small or inconsequential, but it is something that is chosen for me, rather than something that I choose for myself. It reminds me that even for something as simple as what I am to wear, I am not to worry.  Besides, it really makes things so easy that each morning when I open my wardrobe, it’s a no-brainer that I reach for my black section of my shirts and just take any one of my many black clerical shirts.  It challenges me to live out Jesus’ teaching where we should not be worried about what we are to wear, what we are to eat, etc.  

The second reason, which is perhaps even more important than the first, is that my wearing of this clerical garb is a sign of witnessing to the faith.  This became increasingly relevant as news of the abuse crisis in Pennsylvania rocked the Church the world over.  

I know that there are many priests and religious who for personal reasons hardly wear their faith through either a religious habit or clerical garb.  And there could well be some who are considering going about dressed in their lay clothing now, especially because of the way this Pennsylvania report has shaken so many around the world.  It could be a case of safety in anonymity, even though they may not be guilty of anything connected to those reports.  But this second reason of mine for not ditching my Roman blacks at a time like this and instead, to wear it with even more fidelity and pride, is because through this act, I am standing strong in united support and compassion for my abused brothers and sisters who had suffered innocently through no fault of theirs, at the hands of wolves in sheeps’ clothing.  

I am perhaps opening myself to being silently judged as an ‘associate predator’ though I have never abused anyone.  By wearing with fidelity this mark of my priesthood I am saying that not all priests are abusers, perverts nor are we hiding those who are.  I am standing up as a member of the collective part of the larger body of Priests who will bear the Cross of Christ for better or for worse, in good times and in bad.  And if I should be falsely accused as a child abuser, I am in that moment standing very close to Jesus who too was falsely accused of something so serious as to cause him to deserve a criminal’s death sentence in such a shameful way.  

Of course it will be the easier thing to assimilate into the world somewhat incognito, where people looking at me and my dressing will not associate me with a Church that has been so tarnished, and so badly at that.  As far as I am concerned, the Church was never a perfect Church, and on this side of heaven, it never will be.  All of us are a work in process.

Not all priests and not all bishops are bad.  Just as one swallow does not a summer make, so neither does a number of bad priests and religious mean that all of us are bad.  My wearing of my collar is my witness to the world that I still do believe that Jesus is the savior of the world, and that the Roman Catholic faith is the channel through which God’s grace comes to his people, wounded though it may be.  Ditching my clerics at this point is to say that I only believe in a sin-free, perfect and unblemished church, which it isn’t.  The Church is a mystery because though it is a channel for God’s grace to reach her people, it is also very plagued by the temptations of the devil. 

In the gospels, Jesus tells the young man to take up his cross and follow him.  By wearing my collar with fidelity and consistency, I am acting out one dimension of faithfulness and am taking up a cross as well.  The more the church is tainted and seen as a source of scandal, the heavier this cross will be.  

Monday, September 10, 2018

Is there a silver lining in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church?

It is without a doubt that the Catholic Church has been dealt with a severe blow in the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.  Like a cascade of domino tiles, there have been similar reports of abuse and internal shuffling of abuser-priests in other Dioceses in other parts of the world.  

I had been praying and pondering over the many painful and truly horrific stories of those who had been abused, and I consciously offered up all I could in terms of my own mortification as I kept myself isolated from people during my bout of Chicken Pox recently. Yes, I know that this suffering of mine was hardly a dent compared to what the abuse victims suffered in their ordeals, but I also do believe, as I always have, that God can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  Every form of personal mortification offered up with great love for a cause outside ourselves can benefit the souls of others, and this is a fundamental belief that is at the heart of the Body of Christ.  Conversely, any brokenness and suffering and abuse that has been impacting one single soul also negatively affects the overall health and spiritual well-being of the entire Body of Christ, as is evidenced in the way that the universal Catholic Church is still suffering and reeling in spades.

Again, I am not trying to justify the heinous sins of the Church, from the clerics to the higher ups in authority in this blog.  It would be so wrong of me to do so.  But I have been asking myself whether there is any goodness that can come out of this? After all, the deposit of our faith is that Christ saved humanity by his willingness to undergo the most heinous and torturous death that a man could undergo in his time, and it was this horror that paved the way for our salvation.  Many have gone through a great suffering in this crisis as well. We need to remember that there was a very brilliant silver lining despite the pain and sorrow that Jesus underwent on the Cross.

In a somewhat similar way, I do think that something good and positive can come out of this scandal. Certainly not in the scandal itself, which is evil and bad from every single angle and in every single way. But I am hopeful that from this dark page of our Church’s history, a purging of sorts will begin to take place. There is a purgation that needs to happen, and there is a purification that needs to be undergone, not unlike the way gold is purified by having its dross and impurities burned away by exposing it to intense heat.  

Just as persecution purified the early church, revealing those who truly embraced the Cross and truly loved Christ in his Church.  These hard times caused to emerge many heroic Christians in their virtue and pursuit of sanctification with their lives.  These saints formed the Church, and this present difficult road that the universal Church is made to go through will also result in making Catholics really choose to pursue their faith and to be clear about what their faith is about.  

If one’s faith all this while had been based on merely belonging to an institution or a parish that had deep roots in history, this scandal will probably cause one to jettison the faith. If one’s faith had been riding on the coattails of one’s family traditions, where one had been going to Church because one’s parents and grandparents had been doing so on a regular basis, this scandal will likely be the cause of stopping one’s coming to Church each Sunday.  If one’s being Catholic doesn’t go beyond a ‘because I was baptized at birth and confirmed as a teenager’, I wouldn't be surprised at all if this scandal will cause one to say ‘forget this’.

That’s because one’s faith hadn't been really rooted in the true fundamentals of the faith – a belief and worship of Jesus Christ the Son of God and in having a real relationship with him. If one’s belief in Jesus is truly radical, one also will be clear in one’s understanding of the Church’s teachings and Catechesis of the faith.  One begins to really own one’s faith and fundamentals, and can articulate it in conversations why one is holding on to these beliefs and tenets.  

In a non-threatened and non-challenged environment, it is easy to not be all that serious and clear in one’s understanding of the faith.  When there is no pressing reason to be intelligible and clear about one’s beliefs and the direction toward which one’s life ought to head, one can easily just ‘coast along’ and be influenced easily by any trend or movement that sparks the interest of the popular masses.  

Of course we hope and have the great desire that all our leaders, be they leaders of the faith, or those who serve in governing our nations, be people of moral excellence.  Inside each one of us, we have this need to see this virtue in others, especially in those to whom we seek direction and guidance. The truth is that the church is made up of men and women who bear the scars of original sin.  Would that they aren’t.  This is a tragic time in the history of the Church, but I do strongly believe that because God has allowed this to happen, his Holy Spirit is also with us right there in the middle of the storm, and with prayer and perseverance and great humility, a holier and purer church will emerge.  This is a time where we hear a clarion call to moral excellence ourselves, and not just want this in others.  It’s time to demand this of ourselves as well.  

And as for the present storm, we just need to ride it out together, united in faith.  

Monday, August 27, 2018

Blog post will take a hiatus for two weeks

I will not be writing anything for the next two weeks as I am having Chicken Pox.  Your prayers will be much appreciated.  Thank you.

Fr Luke

Monday, August 20, 2018

When our faith is shaken by scandals, disappointments and disillusionment.

It is no hidden or hushed secret that the Catholic Church has been badly rocked by scandal and cover-ups.  Just last week, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a scathing report of its investigation of decades of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by Bishops.  Much has been done by both the media and the Church itself to make right its sinful errors of clergy and religious from so many levels of the Church’s hierarchy, and this seems to be on-going.  Hopefully, cover-ups will be a thing of the past, and where missteps have been taken, that these will be lessons learnt, albeit with so much pain and suffering on the part of the victims.  I pray for a healing of those who have been so unjustly treated, and for forgiveness on your part.

As I minister to the flock, I also do minister to those who either have left the church or are for various reasons refusing to enter into the Church.  It is very sad when I encounter Catholics who find it almost impossible to forgive the sins of the flesh committed by her shepherds, and have decided to walk away.  There is another challenge of a different kind when non-Catholics look at us with disdain and call us hypocrites because they hear us preaching about moral truths, yet see so many living in ways contrary to what we teach.  

While I cannot blame them one bit, I realize that it is something in our human nature to demand and want perfection even from a people who are so flawed and exposed to temptation.  I may be wrong, but I think it is precisely because we have been trained to apply excellence to all fields of our life, that we apply this criterion equally to even things such as mystery – and the Church, and the Body of Christ, is really a mystery.

The great mystery of the Church is that Jesus knows that it will always be flawed and imperfect.  Just look at his choice of those who would make up his first leaders, the group of his twelve specially chosen called his apostles.  He could have done better, you’d think.  I mean, he could have chosen well-established Rabbis, teachers of the Law, educated people, leaders of the community, people who already possessed excellent moral track records, etc.  Yet, his divine choice was none of the above.  Instead he chose men who were very flawed, some of whom clashed socially with one another, hardly educated and in the course of their discipleship revealed a desire for power and self-glory.  Even his choice of the first head of the Church, Peter, was one who had repeatedly denied him (as prophesied by Jesus himself), and whose mouth was often in the fourth gear while his brain was in the first.  

God’s idea and notion of perfection doesn’t seem to be one that is already a completed perfection, but always a work-in-process.  God doesn’t only call the perfect, but he perfects the call, always inviting those called to respond to the call with a self-giving, generosity, charity and fidelity.  And when there is a falling or a failing, his mercy is always there to lift the fallen and restore what is broken, making it whole again.  God doesn’t cover up the failing, and this is where the hierarchy needs to lean in strongly.  Yet, God doesn’t abandon his flawed Church, and he knows that there will be probably many more times this imperfection and this deficiency will need repair and restoration.  That the Roman Catholic Church has survived 2000 years of missteps, mistakes, terrible leadership and heinous sins and still hasn’t disappeared into history books can only attest to the fact that there is an element in the Church that is still supple and willing to be compliant with the promptings and movements of the Holy Spirit.

It’s one thing to explain this to a people gathered in a church setting.  They would have heard gospel references to Jesus’ words and actions of mercy and forgiveness from the pulpit or ambo regularly. But it’s another thing to speak these words to someone unchurched, and to expect or hope that they will accept that being flawed and imperfect could be seen as something that even God can make beautiful and good.  If I had ten cents for every utterance of “the church is full of hypocrites”, I would have a tidy sum set aside by now.  Yet, the truth is that this Church of hypocrites is the one that God wants to redeem and flood with His grace and mercy.  

I am in no way condoning or blessing the heinous sins of the Church’s wayward shepherds with this blog post.  But I want to, if possible, reach out to those who have turned away from the Church because they could not look past the flaws of leaders who couldn’t respond positively to the call to holiness and sanctification.  My plea is that these brothers and sisters look rather at the other shepherds who have been exemplary in their efforts and striving, trying their best to live holy and sanctified lives, and through their lives of self-sacrifice and self-giving been alter Christus (another Christ) to the flock that they had been entrusted with.  

If there are brother priests and religious who happen to read this blog, please pray with me that there will be fresh zeal in all of us to respond generously to the call to holiness in our vocation that we have dedicated our lives to.