Friday, February 1, 2013

The Sins of Our Nation...and Our Church

Well, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Cardinal Mahony is beginning to see the fruits of his misdeeds in the priestly sex abuse scandals in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, having been stripped of public duties by the current archbishop. You can read about it here.

Files of priest offenders have been made public; you can read them on-line. I looked at a couple…that was enough.

This seems to be all part of the great come-uppance of our age. It’s no exaggeration any more to say that sin runs rampant and unchecked in our society today. There are so many disordered behaviors that have become “normalized”: cohabitation, contraception, homosexual behavior, abortion. Even infanticide and pedophilia are beginning to show signs of becoming accepted. I could go on, but I know you know.

I am reminded of a short segment of an excellent sermon given by an anonymous priest some years ago (which I transcribed and posted here). Although the focus of his sermon was not on the sins that abound in the world today, he did touch on it, and he made a good point. He said:

All this chaos and confusion is coming to a head. We’re going to have to start paying the price for more than 40 years of cowardly silence from most of the pulpits and most of the chanceries in these United States. It’s a cowardly silence.  And that’s the most charitable thing one could say about it. A cowardly silence; a failure to explain to the faithful the sometimes painful truths about marriage and divorce and contraception and sterilization and perversion. A cowardly silence…as if there’s no hell.

As if there’s no hell.

As if there’s no hell for people who don’t follow the Church’s teaching in these matters, or for the priests and bishops that don’t warn them. We need to pray that this cowardly silence will end…finally. And that our bishops and priests who have inherited this mess will somewhere find the courage, somewhere find the fortitude to speak out: in the first place against the contraceptive imperialism of our government, but more importantly and more especially against the sins of divorce, contraception, sterilization, and perversion in our own ranks, which has led us to this state.

There’s been a cowardly silence. It’s time to pay the fiddler. We need to pray.

He didn’t mention priestly sex abuse, because that was not his topic, but you can see that it fits in with his statement.

And of course, the sins of the priests who sexually abused adolescents and even children under their care are among the most egregious. These men accepted a vocation in persona Christi. The betrayal of human dignity, the betrayal of the trust parishioners placed in the priest, the betrayal of the bishops in covering up the scandalous behavior and allowing it to be perpetuated…these are serious and distressingly sinful deeds.

As the speaker mentioned above says, “We need to pray.” And we need to do penance. We need to do penance in a big way. Are we up to it? Do the faithful even know the meaning of penance any more?

In a Lenten mission given a number of years ago (you can access it here), the speaker quoted from a book called Why Must I Suffer? by Fr. F. J. Remler, originally published in 1935.  There are some pertinent thoughts expressed in this book regarding the prayer and penance required for the sins of a nation.

Here a few excerpted paragraphs (I do not have the book, so I’m cobbling together what the Lenten mission speaker read and/or paraphrased):

…you must suffer in times of “general calamity” because as a member of society and a citizen of your country, you must unite with others in making atonement and reparation to which Divine justice requires for the public and national sins committed in the community in which you live.

Public and national sins – sins of a graver nature which are committed on so large a scale and by so many persons, whether in a community or city or nation, that they are attributed to the community as a body, and not merely this or that individual.

We have surely reached the point of public and national sins that are of a grave nature; when the book was written, abortion was not legal, and even contraception would only have just begun to be viewed as a “right”. The sin of abortion – and the extent to which it has been accepted and committed – can certainly be seen as a grave sin for which society as a whole must make atonement. God surely attributes this sin to the US and other nations that have embraced it.

When we add the sins of artificial contraception, homosexual behavior, and priestly sexual abuse of minors, it’s pretty clear that we are in deep, deep trouble.

Fr. Remler lists a number of sins that fit into the category of those for which a nation or community might be called to account. Some of them are not even considered to be sins by our practically godless society. He notes sins of this kind:

…apostasy from the faith; irreligion; forgetfulness of God; godless education of the young; profanation of God’s holy name; cursing; blasphemy; perjury; desecration of the Lord’s day; immodest and scandalous fashions; immoral art and literature and amusements; divorce and adultery sanctioned by iniquitous state laws; dishonesty; oppression of poor; murder; etc.

I hear a lot of people talking about the coming chastisement, and you know, I cannot disagree that it has to come at some point, and probably soon. Fr. Remler notes:

God does not readily inflict general chastisements; He tries to get people to seek His pardon by conversion and repentance.  He wants to spare whole communities, sends other messengers; but if they continue in their wickedness, the hour must come when God takes some general visitation that falls on the community as its punishment. Flood, famine, war; punishment and correction of a sinful people.

Persecution is coming, in one form or another – that’s pretty clear. We are seeing it in the Obamacare and HHS regulations that force Catholics to violate their consciences are pay large financial penalties.

Fr. Remler also points out that the “seeds of later retribution” are sown within some sins. For example, the sin of a godless education results quite naturally in the disappearance of the knowledge of God; the lack of a Catholic education results in the destruction of the faith, and we can see that fruit right now.  In addition, godless education, says Fr. Remler, leads to:

…the sense of right and wrong, lost. Good is called evil, evil good. There is no respect for the moral law. Dishonesty and corruption will prevail in business and government.

And he was writing in 1935! These days, we see a celebrity thank God that abortion is legal (“evil is good”); we see the Canadian government unwilling to investigate the deaths of hundreds of born-alive infants (“no respect for the moral law”); we see Obama’s disregard for the Constitution of the US (“dishonesty and corruption will prevail in government”).

So much sin! Such great sin! And we must all suffer for it – not just those who directly commit such sins. Is that “fair”? Fr. Remler says it is:

The good suffer along with the bad; they are part of the community, after all. Sometimes they may not have been overtly guilty, but allowed bad things to happen by failure to vote in the right way, failure to stand up for the good, passively allowing evil to prevail.

If the good suffer in times of “general chastisement”, that contributes to the reparation being made for the sin in a greater way than does the suffering of the wicked.

Also, the suffering of those who have not committed the grievous sin is more meritorious than that of the suffering of the guilty parties; the innocent sufferers are imitating Christ.

Returning to Cardinal Mahony and the priestly sex abuse scandal, the point is that we cannot simply nod our heads knowingly and say “It’s about time.” The Church is in a crisis, and although we can be sure that the gates of Hell will not prevail, we must still be prepared to do penance and suffer retribution for the sins of not just our nation, but of the prelates and priests of our Church.

Sack cloth and ashes? Seriously, it couldn’t hurt.


  1. There is a short extract from Fr. Remler's book at the publisher's webb page for the book:
    It looks like a useful book, a worthwhile read.


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