Thursday, April 1, 2010

Non Praevalebunt

This morning a friend forwarded me an Op-ed (March, 29, 2010) by Juan Manuel de Prada from the prestigious Spanish journal If you read Spanish, I suggest you read the full article. It's a "hopeful" read on this Holy Thursday.

Today is a special day for Catholics - we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Most of my former colleagues in the Legion of Christ are probably a little more than half-way through their annual week-long spiritual retreat. They have a lot to think and pray about. While they pray and reflect, pseudo-pundits and the more strident critics relentlessly attack them - without any obvious concern for the solemnity of Holy Week. A couple of the more strident - English language - anti-Legion and anti-Regnum Christi blogs chose today to belabor the Legion/Maciel sexual abuse theme. Another headlines current attacks on the Holy Father.

I wish I had the time to translate De Prada's piece because I think he offers sound Christian advice and reasons for hope as we struggle with the sins, faults and foibles of our Church. Meanwhile, let me offer the gist of what he has to say:

Juan Manuel starts by quoting G.K. Chesterton who pointed out that Christ did not found his Church on the brilliant Paul, the mystic John but rather on a cowardly, loud-mouthed rascal of a man named Peter. While other empires and institutions have collapsed from the inside, despite being led by strong men, the gates of hell have not prevailed against the Christian Church - precisely because it is founded on the shoulders of  a weak human being.

If Christ had wanted to find a man without flaws or faults he could have done so - although he would have been hard put to find one amongst the Apostles. The history of the Church is that of weak humans who through God's grace have done great good for the Church.

Amongst them, Pope Alexander VI, much maligned by critics of the Church, who despite his obvious faults nonetheless helped bring Christianity to the the New World.

St. Augustine described the Church as "holy and prostitute" concepts that every Catholic needs to understand. "Holy' because of divine inspiration. "Prostitute" because the divine inspiration works through weak human beings, corrupted by weaknesses they don't know how to give up.

This very nature of the Church becomes an even greater mystery when humans with proven flaws undertake missions which turn out to do good in the Church. Enemies of the Church make the most of this mystery to spread the poison of discouragement and apathy in the ranks of the faithful. That's what's happening again with the revelations of the proven weaknesses that have soiled the life of Fr. Marcial Maciel.

Like Alexander VI, there is no doubt that Maciel was not a man "without fault." But to extend his personal stain to the mission he gave rise to is to deny the action of grace and very nature of the Church, founded on flawed humans. The enemies of the Church, who deny its divine inspiration (perhaps because they understand it so well) would have Catholics forget, in these times of trial, that grace acts through weak humans - men who often are cowardly, loud-mouthed villains. In a word, weak men who take on a mission that tests their strength, often exceeds their strength; men who even betray their mission with their acts - just as Saint Peter betrayed Christ after he was chosen to be the cornerstone of the Church.

The enemies of the Church know, of course, how to create Pharisaical scandal and discouragement amongst Catholics. They know how to spread the poison of Puritanical pride among those who were called, weaknesses and all, to a mission that exceeded their abilities.

The day when Catholics believe that the Church's mission depends on the condition of having "men without reproach" is the day when the gates of hell shall have prevailed.

Whether you agree or not, De Prada offers a refreshing reminder of what "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church" means, today. I think it works better than the view that can't seem to get beyond an unrelenting focus on sins endlessly and graphically described with little or no focus on the possibiility of redemption.

To conclude - perhaps on a lighter note - I'd like to paraphrase a letter I saw on "Dear Abby."

Dear Abby: I want to marry a nice, sweet girl who has just completed her prison sentence for abandoning her illegitimate kid. My problem is, my dad sells drugs, my mother died in an asylum of syphilitic insanity, my two sisters are hookers, and my older brother is awaiting trial of for murder. My younger brother is a priest with the Legionaries of Christ. Should I tell my future bride the awful truth about my younger brother?
 Let us pray!

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