Thursday, April 08, 2004

The Ongoing Attack on ‘The Priest’

Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest

(Holy Thursday 2004: This homily was given on April 8, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read John 13: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Thursday 2004]

The Priest was attacked.

Not a priest, but rather the Priest. He was attacked.

It happened, of course, on the very first Holy Thursday and Good Friday some 2,000 years ago. But it didn’t end there. The attack continues!

Do you see it? Do you see that the Priest is being attacked in your midst, in contemporary western culture?

Most do not (and, sad to say, that includes most Catholics!).

The original attack, which occurred in the year 33, is what we gather as a Church to commemorate tonight and tomorrow.

We remember how Jesus Christ (who is called our Great High Priest in the Letter to the Hebrews)—we remember how he was betrayed, denied, falsely accused, beaten, spat upon, scourged, crowned with thorns, humiliated, and finally crucified.

As St. John Fisher put it, “Our high priest is Christ Jesus, our sacrifice is his precious body which he immolated on the altar of the cross for the salvation of men.”

This attack on Jesus the Priest, from one perspective, ended the moment he spoke those words, “It is finished,” and gave up his Spirit. But from another perspective—which is equally valid—the attack on him has never stopped!

It’s gone on, unabated, for two solid millennia.

How is this possible, since Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and ascended into heaven 40 days later?

Well, remember that St. Paul in his letters calls Jesus Christ the “head” of the Church, which is his body!

That’s the key point that should clarify the issue for us. Jesus Christ, because he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father, can no longer be attacked in his “head,” but he can still be attacked in his body, the Church!

And he is!

Let me give you 3 examples of the phenomenon tonight. These 3 have impressed themselves upon me in recent weeks.

Number 1 is the terrible priest sex abuse scandal.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that since this began in Lent of 2002 there has been a failure—especially in the secular media—to distinguish the condemnation of the sexual abuse committed by certain priests from the condemnation of the priesthood as an institution.

Consequently, in the process of condemning the sins of these clerics (sins which should be condemned!), members of the media and others have gone on to attack the priesthood itself.

A coincidence?

Please, don’t insult my intelligence!

The Holy Father has said, “There is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.”

To that, we should all say, “Amen.” And, believe me, no one is more pleased about the removal of bad priests than those of us in the priesthood who are being faithful.

But make no mistake about it: the media frenzy surrounding this terrible evil has very little to do with protecting children. Many secular journalists will say it does, but that’s a lie!

If they were really serious about protecting children, then they would investigate what’s going on in other groups as intently and as doggedly as they investigate the goings on in the Catholic Church!

But they don’t.

Two cases in point. Last week there was a gathering in Nashville, Tennessee, of present and former Jehovah’s Witnesses, all of whom claim they were sexually abused by congregation leaders. According to one of the organizers of the event, the number of abuse victims is at least six thousand. Six thousand!

Where is the media outcry about these Jehovah’s Witnesses? Where are ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and the sanctimonious editors of the New York Times? If the situation involved one Catholic priest, the story would be on the front page of the Times and it would be the lead item on every TV news program! But about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we have heard almost nothing. The Westerly Sun, incidentally, had the story in its March 28th issue, buried on page 28!

But that’s not even the most egregious example of how abuse is being ignored in other places. That distinction is held, sad to say, by the public school system in this country.

Not long ago Hofstra University professor, Charol Shakeshaft, was commissioned by the Bush administration to study this problem. And what was her conclusion? It was this (and here I quote): “The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”

Along these lines, the New York Post concluded a couple of years ago that at least one child is sexually abused by a school employee every day in New York City public schools!

And yet, there is almost nothing about this in the secular media.

That’s because the frenzy about bad priests has not been about protecting young people—it hasn’t even been about “getting priests.”

It’s really been about discrediting “the Priest!” We Christians need to be crystal clear about that.

The philosophy of our Lord’s attackers has been simple: “To discredit the Priest, Jesus Christ, we must first discredit those who share in his priesthood. These bad priests will help us do that. And once we discredit Christ, we can discredit his teaching—especially his teaching on personal, sexual issues. Jesus says ‘No’ to our morality, so Jesus must be eliminated!”

The second example of a contemporary attack on the Priest takes the form of a book: The DaVinci Code.

I finally made the hard decision to read it last week—because I thought I needed to do a little more penance during Lent!

I will describe my reaction to this novel with two words: What rot!

Again, in this instance, the attack is not so much on the Church (although that’s the way it might initially appear)—it’s on Jesus Christ himself. The Church is merely the vehicle for the onslaught.

I could give you a long list of historical and theological errors in this novel which are used to smear the Lord, but I’ll focus on only one—the most heinous of all: the charge that the Church, in effect, “invented” the divinity of Jesus Christ in the 4th century, at the Council of Nicaea.

Has this author, Dan Brown, ever read the Gospel of John, where Jesus himself says, “The Father and I are one”?

Has he ever read the many other Scriptural texts in the New Testament which clearly affirm the divinity of Christ, his equality to God the Father?

Has he ever read the writings of the early Church Fathers, all of whom consistently affirmed the truth that Jesus is God?

Brown would probably respond by saying, “But Father, it’s fiction. It’s only a novel.”

No, Mr. Brown, you don’t write fiction like this about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! If you want to write a book of fiction, fine—then write about fictional characters! Not about the eternal Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary and who died for my sins—and for yours!

I dare say that Mr. Brown would never, ever write a novel of this type about Mohammed, or Moses, or Buddha, or Confucius.

But he did write one of this type—a slanderous and blasphemous one—about Jesus.

The purpose, once again, is clear (at least it’s clear to me): to discredit the Gospel, by discrediting the Priest who taught it, Jesus Christ.

The final contemporary example of the world’s attack on the Priest is found in the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”

Is it too violent, as so many opponents of the film say it is?

Please! Did they say the same thing about Gibson’s other classic film, “Braveheart”? No way! They gave that movie 5 Academy Awards! And the violence of “Braveheart” dwarfs the violence of the “Passion.”

As for the anti-Semitism charge, since the film follows the 4 Gospels so closely, if you call Mel anti-Semitic you also must call Matthew, Mark, Luke and John anti-Semitic!

But even beyond that, since the primary author of Sacred Scripture is the Holy Spirit, if the 4 evangelists—the 4 Gospel writers—are guilty of hating the Jews, then the obvious and inescapable conclusion is that the Holy Spirit is also an anti-Semite!

That, as ridiculous as it may sound, actually comes closer to the point. I believe that the secularist opponents of this movie know how powerful it is—and this knowledge fuels their opposition. They know the potential of this film to move people to conversion: conversion to Christ and conversion to the Catholic Church.

And that they do not want!

Their true enemy, of course, is not Mel Gibson. Attacking him is nothing more than a diversionary tactic.

Their real enemy—the one they really hate—is Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest. By seeking to discredit Gibson’s film, they are seeking to discredit the Priest who offered the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins. Having embraced a perverse notion of love in their own lives, they now attack the greatest expression of true love that the world has ever seen!

As we celebrate the Easter Triduum this year, let’s keep in mind that what we commemorate tonight and tomorrow are not simply events of the past. In the Lord’s body, the Church, Holy Thursday and Good Friday live on!

They are experienced—and they will continue to be experienced—until the end of time.

But in the midst of all this let’s also resolve not to forget the most important truth of all: This Priest conquers! This Great High Priest always emerges victorious in the end!

Yes, he was attacked; yes, he was killed. But three days later he rose from the dead!

And his awesome, everlasting victory is shared by all those who are obedient to him.

O Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, help us to be your faithful disciples always—especially in the midst of the many Holy Thursdays and Good Fridays of this life, so that we will someday share with you an eternal Easter Sunday. Amen.