On February 24, 2019, the seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Archbishop of Paris, France, Most Rev. Michel Aupetit, offered the following homily on the present situation in the Church. The Vatican’s Summit against clerical sex abuse ended on the same day. He began by quoting from the media:
“Scandal in the Church!”...“The Church is corrupted!”...”The expression “rotten to the core” was once used to condemn politicians, now the term seems to fit the clergy.
The first question that must be asked is whether the Church was ever a community of perfect people, an elite of saints that God would protect from evil while leaving the rest of mankind in turpitude and degradation. The answer is that this has never been the case throughout history. Even when Christ lived amongst us he was surrounded by cowards, traitors and renegades.
The Lord warned us that in the field where he sowed good grain, the devil sowed rye grass by night, that is, in the darkness of the human soul.
Look at the example of David. In today’s reading David showed great charity in sparing the life of Saul, a king filled with jealousy, who wanted to kill him. He acted magnanimously because of his faith. On the other hand, when David took his lieutenant Uri’s wife as his mistress and had his faithful servant killed in order to avoid public judgement he appears less sympathetic. This act was not in the name of God but because of the “wild grass” that grows in every man’s heart: disordered urges, cowardice, lack of scruples and murderous rage.
St. Paul tells us: “The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit. Yet that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual. The first man was of the earth, earthly: the second Man, from heaven, heavenly. Such as is the earthly, such also are the earthly: and such as is the heavenly, such also are they that are heavenly. Therefore as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image of the heavenly” (1 Corinthians 15: 45-49).
Here we understand that first is the physical which is followed by the spiritual. We are caught between the first man and his weaknesses and the Man from heaven whose image we must reflect.
We are therefore confronted by two choices. Either we give our assent to sin or we convert. Giving assent to sin means wallowing in mud while excusing our depravity. To convert means turning to God and truly changing our lives. This is true for clergy and lay people alike.
This is the battle in which the entire Church is engaged; it is everyone’s battle. The boundary line between the wheat and the chaff does not lie between good men and evil men but exists within the heart of each man.
From the beginning, the Church has conveyed a message of love from Our Lord Jesus Christ to the entire world. Without the Church, His message would not have reached us today. The Church has neither transformed nor disfigured Christ’s message. It was not adapted to what was in fashion. The Church has transmitted and lived Our Lord’s message in its entirety thanks to those who have allowed themselves to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The sins of men have not altered the truth.
Christ’s message is revolutionary, as we heard in today’s Gospel: “But I say to you that hear: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you. And to him that striketh thee on the one cheek, offer also the other. And him that taketh away from thee thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to everyone that asketh thee, and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again. And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner” (Luke 6: 27-31).
No longer is the minimum for life in society satisfactory. Instead it is a revolution of love that requires one to love his enemies, to do good to those who hate him and to pray for those who speak ill against him.
Beyond human feelings, we enter into God’s Will and our freedom is illuminated. This is what is meant when we pray to the Lord: “Thy Will be done…”
This message was not known before Jesus Christ gave it to us. He went to the very end of forgetting and loving one’s enemy. Thus, the face of the earth was changed and the doors to heaven became opened to all.
Brothers and sisters, we were baptized to become God’s children and to announce salvation to all men that they may find joy. Christ has saved us from death and sin. His resurrection portends the victory of life over death and mercy over sin.
Together, we are His Church. As Joan of Arc would say: “Christ and the Church are but one”. The frail bark is rocked by the wind storm but we can remain confident. We know He is with us even if we perceive Him to be asleep.
In closing, let me share a secret about my prayer life. Each day I pray that I not become a cause of scandal for I have given my life (as have all who are consecrated) so that the greatest number of my fellow men might know the joy of the supreme encounter. Should a word I utter or an inadequate behavior of mine lead astray so much as one of the children who believe in Christ, I would feel the greatest of sorrows. This is the reason why we must support each other in prayer.
+ Michel Aupetit
archbishop of Paris