As we revisit so many of the issues that have been occupying us over the past year and half, I just want to make a few points.
First, those who point out the flaws of church leaders are doing a good thing. Some of you don't think so, but that's too bad. Sure, the most effective and only truly Christian way to do this is to be constantly mindful of our own sinfulness and shortcomings, and I don't see anyone here who doesn't take that stance. If you read the Scriptures, you don't see a narrative of people anxiously warning each other to just get along and stop being so darn negative. You see a string of men we call prophets who were direct, truthful and harsh in their assessment of religious leaders, and who, from Jeremiah to Stephen, paid the price at their hands.
What is true that our prophetic instincts must be balanced with charity, realism, and a strong commitment of our own to follow Jesus, not just in words, but in actions. Let us call bishops to task, but only for a few minutes a day. Let us spend the rest of the day tending to the poor, educating the young, ministering to the sick.
There is a knotty problem here that is very difficult to tease out. It is easy for us to say, "Just focus on Christ," which is what we do say, but the fact is that in terms of Roman Catholic ecclesiology, bishops are not irrelevant. They are the heirs to the apostles. They matter. We can, on the one hand, agree with whichever ancient figure said, "The floor of hell is scattered with the bones of bishops" or something like that, and we can look over the past three hundred years of Church history and see how few bishops have been canonized...and we can try to deal with it, but how, in the end, do we deal with the fact that for so many, these bishops to whom we look as teachers, as heirs to the apostles, are either mistreating people, hiding the truth or promoting ideas contrary to Church teaching? This is what is bothering people, and it is a concern that deserves respect, because it is real, and it is a legitimate question.
In the end, and forgive me if I sound like a broken record on this, it is most helpful to keep ourselves historically grounded. God's call to his people has been constant, and so has our resistance. What is the Old Testament, but a continually frustrated love story? There is something important to be learned, as well, from the portrayal of the apostles in the Gospels. They all have one good moment: they say "yes" to Jesus. And that really is about the end of it. After that, they are perpetually clueless, small-minded, weak in faith and struggling. Certainly, the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost serves to strengthen them and empower them so that they can then fill out that "yes" to Jesus with lives that are committed to death.
And consider that throughout church history, some of our greatest saints are those who have had serious conflicts with church authority at one time or another. There is a great mystery to all of this. A great mystery and great pain, at times. We can't stop being honest, and we can't stop being hopeful. You have to do what you can do, and I really think that if this revelation of some bishops' sins and the seemingly systemic resistance to the truth of the Gospel is getting you down - that shows something good about you. But I also think that you can't let evil win, and when we let this reality drive us from Christ, by moving us to think more about churchmen than about what Jesus is calling you to do right here and now for his little ones - you're letting evil win.
So use this comment space, please, to share good recent moments from your spiritual life. Either moments of grace and peace, or moments when you have been out in the world and have seen God's hand at work through the Body of Christ. We need to be honest, and I welcome that, and we also need to be hopeful. What are our reasons for hope?