Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Scandal of the Cross

My latest runs this week in the Catholic Telegraph:

With the advent of the 24-hour news channels, it seems that there is now a greater desire to, in a way, manufacture news. With 168 hours of news coverage to fill per week, there is a great deal of time to rehash and recover stories that even just 10 years ago might have fallen quickly to the wayside, especially when those stories center around the fall from grace of a public figure who has become bigger than the law, the constituents, the cause which he or she serves.

Recently, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives over a texting scandal. Hollywood stars and starlets seem to live for the front page of the tabloids. Even the vicar general for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has had pressure applied for failing to uphold his responsibility in the protection of children.

My point in this article is to not argue that a free pass should be offered to anyone, but rather to muse on the question of how it has come to this, specifically in regards to the people involved, and on the phrase from the investment scandals and the bank bailouts which has returned to the front of my mind: “Too Big to Fail.”

Lord Acton’s oft-quoted summary seems to apply once again: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Original sin continues to manifest itself, as the initial refrain from the evil one echoes through the ages: “I will not serve.”

Power, hubris, thinking that one is above the law, all are rooted in the most ancient, yet most modern of sins: pride. It is so easy to read your own press clippings, to ignore the criticisms rightly leveled, to rationalize one’s behavior while scoffing at the right reasoning of others; suddenly, the world does revolve around me and everything should serve my purposes.

As we have found out, even priests are not immune to this trap. We are complimented frequently, people tend to listen to what we say and we can be treated very kindly by strangers for nothing other than being a priest. It is easy to think that I can walk on water, instead of pointing to the One who actually did walk on water.

How is one to combat these temptations to pride? It certainly is not easy, but we have great examples of those who have come before us to follow. In 2 Samuel 16:5 and following, as David is leaving Jerusalem in scandal and fleeting from his son, Absalom, Shimei, a man from the same clan as David’s predecessor, Saul, starts throwing rocks and insults at the downtrodden king. Many who are traveling with David want to rush upon Shimei for these insults, yet David recognizes that he speaks for the Lord God and humbly takes his punishment.

In the New Testament, Peter is often chastised for his hubris before Our Lord, yet he is humbled by his inability to stay true to his promise to be with Jesus ‘even to the point of death’ during His passion and death. Yet, returning to the Lord, has there ever been a greater statement of faith than his pleading: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you! “(John 21:17)

So many saints who have been wrongly accused, even by the church, responded with a quiet submission and trust in God’s providence and care. They knew it was never about them, but rather always about leading others to Christ. If their suffering helped that to happen, they rejoiced with St. Paul that they had been found worthy to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

As we all face those temptations to pride, those temptations to hubris, to putting our selves above the law, let us always turn to the cross of Christ, for only in Him do we find our strength. Every saint has lived under some version of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s motto: “All for the Greater Glory of God.” May we, too, echo these same words.


April said...

This article made me think about the fact that less than a year ago we went to see a famous priest speak at the Cintas Center. Now both he and another well-known priest who served as M.C., are no longer publicly acting as priests (I don't know the best way to word that... they have left the priesthood).

In some parts of the world priests are scorned and humiliated. In others they are put on a pedestal.

St. John Chrysostom (a doctor of the Church) said, "I do not speak rashly, but as I feel and think. I do not think that many priests are saved, but that those who perish are far more numerous. The reason is that the office requires a great soul. For there are many things to make a priest swerve from rectitude, and he requires great vigilance on every side.’

I think we need to pray very hard for our priests, who are under attack from the devil. One of my favorite books is Abbe Trochu's biography of the Cure of Ars. St. John Vianney is really hard-core; he will give you a whole new idea of what a priest is supposed to be.


Rosary said...

I think our present society is quite different from past generations. It has evolved into this complicated, controversial, and disappointing time when we don't understand what's really important such as faith, humility, and sacrifice. Pride causes us to think we have utmost power when in fact, only God has that ultimate hand.