TBM Topic 13: Fr. John Corapi and the importance of Christian witnessing
“There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy, And No Measuring Tape Can Reach” by Julie Robison
“Believe Me If You Like.” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“What do John Mayer and the Catholic Church have in common?” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!
There is something to be said for, what Graham Greene said in Brighton Rock, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has certainly seen its share of sin and scandal in the past 2,000+ years and, most recently, with the latest exposure of John Corapi’s inappropriate escapades, to fuel the opposition’s cackling fire.
In the April 2011 issue of First Things, Gerald McDermott wrote “Evangelicals Divided,” which resulted in many responses, a few of which were published in the June/ July 2011 issue, including from the author himself. Towards the end, he reproached his Papist brethren. “At the same time, I wish the Catholic critics were a bit less triumphalistic,” wrote McDermott. “When the clergy abuse has sent multitudes of Catholics to swim the Tiber away from Rome to either liberal or evangelical Protestantism, and the church is beset with both clergy and parishioners who ignore or defy Rome, one would hope for a bit of ecumenical modesty.” I let out a contented sigh upon reading this- that his protest was but a finger point; in short, our strand of Christendom has its own problems, and gawking is not welcome.
|We’re not gawking, we’re taking a break|
When news first came out about John Corapi, people were wary. This is a sign of mercy, not blind allegiance. He has shown himself to be an amazing defender of the faith; it is a shame to see such a man go wayward.
In Catholic doctrine, the seven spiritual works of mercy are: counsel the doubtful; instruct the ignorant; admonish sinners; comfort the afflicted; forgive offenses; bear wrongs patiently; pray for the living and the dead. How many people remember these when comparing one Christian witness to another? My siblings made a joke in the car yesterday about how ignorant people are “people who know they know everything already.” I thought this an astute observation from a 13 and 15 year old.
As Americans, we should believe that all people are innocent until proven otherwise. As Christians, we know no one can escape final justice. Therefore, as Roman Catholics, all voluntarily professing believers in the same dogma and equal participants in the sacraments, we must especially pray for mercy and grace, for ourselves and each other. Pope Benedict XVI, during his inauguration on April 24, 2005 to become the 265th Bishop of Rome, said, “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”
|Pray for him! We’re so blessed to have him lead us.|
Holy people are not exempt from temptation, though they rise above the occasion. Fr. Joseph Esper, in his excellent book Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems*, opens the chapter on “Temptation” as such:
What is the one thing every human being throughout history who has reached the age of reason has shared in common? It isn’t the reality of sin, either Original Sin or personal sin. Jesus and Mary never sinner, and neither was touched by the sinful inheritance of Adam and Eve. No, the one reality we all share is the experience of being tempted to sin. Even Jesus (and surely Mary, although Scripture doesn’t record it) experienced temptation. Three times the evil one approached Jesus during His forty days of fasting and prayer in the desert… In each case, Jesus rejected the Devil’s suggestions. Not only did He wish to remain true to the will of His Father, but He also desired to provide us with encouragement to face and, with His help, to overcome our own temptations to sin.
Corapi, for all his positive work in the advancement of the faith, has reassured me of something with his moral failings and betrayal of his vows: Truth prevails. The Catholic Church is a vehicle of God, not man. His personal actions were sinful, but the Church’s teachings do not change. I am not Roman Catholic because of one man’s persuasiveness, nor do a thousand-billion people’s personal sins lessen the truths given to us by Jesus Christ, the divine revelation from God the Father or the works of the Holy Spirit.
|St. Thomas More would know a thing or two about this|
After all, as Knox later jokes, “If all Catholics were saints, the truth of our religion would become too glaringly obvious, and there would be no real exercise in making one’s submission to the Church.”
In these times, I pray. Pray for mercy. Pray for help. Pray for hope. Pray for repentance. I also stand my ground. This is what witnessing is; no one is convinced by otherwise. I show mercy. I give help. I tell of my hope, and my reason for it. I repent of my sins, in my heart and in the confessional. To witness, one must believe in the tenants of Christianity, which give cause for virtuous actions, and thus the heart will be sanctified, so that the burning love for God will be kindled and the Holy Spirit’s fire will spread to many more, for the glory of the Kingdom to come.
The one fact of life we must never forget is that all people matter; all people have souls worth saving. Corapi’s life is not over in the Church. The one lost sheep is worth looking for; the Prodigal Son’s return is worth celebrating. There is much to feel blessed about, when one sees good come from bad situations, wrongs rightened, and perseverance through the darkness. In that vein, I particularly like this question and answer from Light of the World:
The scandal of sexual abuse could cause us to ask about other cases of abuse of well. For instance, the abuse of power. The abuse of a relationship. The abuse of a commission to educate. The misuse of my gifts. In ancient Greece a tragedy was supposed to cause strong emotions in the spectators, a “cathartic” or cleansing effect that made them think in a new way about their life. Only catharsis makes people ready to change their deeply ingrained behaviors. Couldn’t the current crisis of the Church become a new opportunity also?
Pope Benedict XVI replied,
I think so. Indeed, I have already mentioned that the Year of Priests, which turned out quite differently from what we had expected, had a cathartic effect also. That the laity, too, became grateful again for what the priesthood really is and saw its positive nature in a new way, precisely in the midst of the disturbances and the threats to it.
This catharsis is for all of us, for all of society, but especially of course for the Church, a call to recognize again our fundamental values and to see the dangers that profoundly threaten not only priests but also society as a whole. Knowledge about this threat and the destruction of the moral framework of out society should be for us a call to purification. We must acknowledge again that we cannot simply live in any way we please. That freedom cannot be arbitrariness. That is imperative to learn to exercise a freedom that is responsibility.
As such, each of have a responsibility in this lifetime to discern and properly seek our purpose, to live according to the Word and Catholic doctrine, and to be a witness for how our relationship with God-in-Three has and continues to profoundly change our hearts and shape our souls. As was proclaimed in the Gospel on Sunday, weeds will grow up beside the harvest, but it is not for us to pick them out before the whole crop comes to fruition. In the sin of scandal, our ruffled feathers help us straighten out our own lives, examine our own actions and thoughts, and more earnestly seek to live more faithfully.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Pope Benedict XVI explained this best in his brilliant Introduction to Christianity, with the reminder to use our fallen natures as the stepping stone upwards to God, for we are not called to a flawless, never-tripping-or-making-mistakes holiness, but perfection through sanctification:
On the contrary, this holiness expressed itself precisely as mingling with the sinners whom Jesus drew into his vicinity; as mingling to the point where he himself was made “to be sin” and bore the curse of the law in execution as a criminal– complete community of fate with the lost (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). He has drawn sin to himself, made it his lot, and so revealed what true “holiness” is: not separation, but union; not judgment, but redeeming love.
Is the Church not simply a continuation of God’s continual plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at the table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight? Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man’s expectation of purity, God’s true holiness, which is love, love that does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order to thus overcome it? Can, therefore, the holiness of the Church be anything else but the bearing with one another that comes, of course, from the fact that all of us are bourne up by Christ?
No one escapes temptation’s siren call, but how one responds to it determines the course. We should mourn Corapi’s decisions, pray for him, and hope for him, as we should for all people. No one is outside the realm of God’s mercy and we should witness for Christ accordingly, in our unwholly holy way.
“So I find words I never thought to speak/ In streets I never thought I should revisit/ When I left my body on a distant shore./ Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us/ To purify the dialect of the tribe/ And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,/ Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age/ To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort./ First, the cold friction of expiring sense/ Without enchantment, offering no promise/ But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit/ As body and soul begin to fall asunder./ Second, the conscious impotence of rage/ At human folly, and the laceration/ Of laughter at what ceases to amuse./ And last, the rending pain of re-enactment/ Of all that you have done, and been; the shame/ Of motives late revealed, and the awareness/ Of things ill done and done to others’ harm/ Which once you took for exercise of virtue.“
— T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding”