Cardinal Robert Sarah in his new book: The Day Is Now Far Spent, addresses the issues of the current problems in the Church. He puts it squarely in failing to seek holiness, the theme of our second reading. Further, he says that what has caused all this is that we have stopped praying. He is especially addressing the priests and the bishops, but also the Church as a whole as well.
We have a mission to evangelize the world, but no one talks about how to do it, but he does. He says that by our living a holy life, we evangelize the world. It is an essential part of what it means to be Catholic and he suggests that this must be our focus now.
How do we do that? we simply fall in love with Jesus. We make him a part of our life and let his vision transform our vision as we grow closer to Him. We do that by being people of prayer above all else.
Our Church really does not speak much to the world if we are not focused on our own holiness. He explains we must people of prayer, real prayer, what Thomas Merton called contemplative prayer.
Prayer is what makes us different than others for prayer leads to holiness.
The problem, according to Cardinal Sarah, is that we have become lost in causes and social justice. That was never the mission of the Church. This does not mean that social justice is not important but being focused on causes and not on Christ is disastrous, especially among the priests and bishops.
Further, we can lose a sense of how to do social justice if we are not first in pursuit of holiness.
Let us take one example: There is a lot of talk in the church about being a welcoming church. So many Christians are focused on that ‘all are welcome’ message but there is no place in the Catholic Church for not being loving people to anybody. That is what is different. The question should not be whether one is welcomed in the church, but whether one experiences love, regardless of whom he or she is.
There is a horrible story out of Tennessee, you may have heard about it. A young teen about 16 years old apparently had written some messages to a friend who was male. The content of the letters was not revealed but they indicated that they were in some form of a sexual relationship. You know we consider that sinful, but do not forget that God’s grace and mercy is bigger than all our sins combined. Apparently, a former girlfriend somehow got those messages and used them to cyberbully him by outing his as gay. She did this publicly on the internet. He was so devastated that this happened that he committed suicide using a gun by the way. His whole family is devastated. So now everyone is focused on him understandably and the stigma that caused him to feel so desperate that he committed this devastating act.
We are Catholics, we seek to live our faith and to live our faith in holiness and love. As Cardinal Sarah says, we must be the face of Christ. Maybe if we were more focused there we might be able to see this picture with better lenses.
What would the saints do in this case? Well, let us take one saint, a parish priest: St John Vianney. Now, let’s imagine that the suicide did not happen and angry parishioners gathered that teen with his letter to St. John Vianney. They may have realized quickly that was a mistake. St John Vianney saw more hope for salvation in people like him than those who lived an ersatz form of Catholicism. He probably would have told them he did not have time for such nonsense, and then spoke to the teen about holiness, sin and Christ. He would probably have scolded those who brought him. He would have told them that the cyberbully was the one who committed the far more serious sin. Cyberbullying is a technological form of a sin he called detraction which is saying something bad about another person even if it is true. It is so severe that St. John Vianney called it close to the worst sin one can commit.
Just because it is using technology and it has a 21st century name does not mean it is not the sin of detraction.
That was the same sin Queen Jezebel, the most evil woman in the Bible, used against Naboth in the time of Elijah the prophet so that she could steal his vineyard. Same sin. No one mentions that, maybe if people were actually seeking holiness and were teaching the truth about mercy, God’s love and not just his judgement when they spoke of sin, things like this might not happen.
A good, holy person as St John Vianney was and is would recognize the need to balance awareness of sin with love. He sought to bring Christ to a sinful but human world that needed to know the face of Christ.
The late Fr Rufus Pereira used to explain that the worst of all pain is the feeling of abandonment. Remember, Jesus says from the cross: “My God, My God why have you abandoned me.” Those feelings of being abandoned by the rest of the world can kill and detraction is one of the causes of it.
Her actions led him to feel that pain. Whether he was accurate in his assessment it does not matter. Her actions led to his suicide because he went down that dark hole of feeling isolated and abandoned. Now you understand the real tragedy of what happened in Tennessee.
We must be accurate on sin, but through holiness, we learn how to reflect, accurately, Christ’s love not what passes for Christianity today, which Cardinal Sarah called bourgeois.
Holiness gives us a whole different vision and more accurately displays the true face of Christ not the bourgeois that many people think of today. We cannot be holy if we are not people deeply in love with Christ and people of prayer.
How much do we love Christ?
How do you pray?