Jesus Is Still With Us

Did you happen to see former Governor Mario Cuomo’s letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal of April 8, 2010?

In the ink spill over the recent fury about the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, Governor Cuomo’s remarks stand out for insight and balance. Simply put, he states that Jesus Christ—not sinful priests or negligent bishops—is the cornerstone of our faith. The governor reminds us that the leader of the apostles, the first pope, St. Peter, was far from some radiant saint, but an awful sinner, who actually denied even knowing Jesus three times on the night of His passion.

The Church is sinless, concludes Governor Cuomo; members of the Church, even her sisters, priests, bishops and popes, are not.

Our Catholic faithful, like Mr. Cuomo, are savvy, intelligent, perceptive women and men. Are they shocked, saddened and angered by daily, unrelenting reports of immorality of decades ago? Yes! Are they tempted to lose their faith? No!

Because they know it’s all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior, the way, the truth and the life. He remains with us in His Church, whose members are big sinners.

So, thank you, Governor Cuomo! You are right on target: our faith is not in the Church, but in a Person, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ, who promised us He would be with us in the Church until the end of time, and that not even the "gates of hell will prevail against her."

A reporter recently asked me, "Are you shocked and scandalized in the newest round of publicity about decades-old sexual abuse?"

"Well, yes," I replied, as I would hope such nauseating immorality would always sadden me. But, I went on, "I happen to have a Ph.D. in scandal, so it doesn’t shake my faith. I have my doctorate in Church history, which is one long tale of sin, scandal and shock, always redeemed by the grace and mercy of God."

And the apostles, our first priests and bishops, serve as the best example of how God’s wisdom trumps stupidity, His mercy erases sin, His grace is victorious over hardheadedness.

Last Monday, the Feast of Sts. Philip and James, two of the apostles, provides a good example. Ignorant Philip asks Jesus to "show us the Father."

Poor patient Jesus! You can detect the exasperation in His response: "Philip, come on now, I’ve been with you every day for three years and you still don’t get it? Whoever sees me sees the Father." Stubbornness, ignorance, right from the start.

A bigger blooper will come at the Ascension. Jesus had taught them so well, and right before He’s to return to heaven, His apostles reveal how dense they are, as they ask one of the sillier questions in the Gospel, "Lord, now will you restore the kingdom of Israel?"

What dolts! How often had He told them His was not a political agenda, yet they never got it!

And of course nothing was worse than the night of His passion: of His 12 best friends, one betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver, one denied even knowing Him three times, and nine ran off like scared jackrabbits. Only one, the youngest, stuck with Him.

Not a good track record. If the survival of the Church depended upon the brightness, the virtue, the courage, the holiness of her bishops and priests, the Church would have collapsed only hours after the ordination of her first ones, the apostles.

So, a tort attorney can brag, "I’m not resting until there’s a ‘going-out-of-business’ sign in front of every Catholic Church."

So columnists can say that this scandal only shows that the Church has to conform her "paleo-teaching" on faith and morals to this "enlightened, liberated" era, forgetting that the scandals hardly came because of Church teaching but because people ignored it.

So commentators will predict that the Church will now obviously collapse under the pressure of this scandal, and the days of the Church having any normative say in the lives of her people or in culture are numbered.

Wrong… we’ve been through it all before, starting with our first batch of priests and bishops.

Pardon the Latin, but, ecclesia semper reformanda: the Church always needs reform.

Actually, the sin and scandal in some—a very small minority—of Church leaders really shows that the Holy Spirit is in charge. As the British historian Lord Macaulay observed, "No mere human institution could have survived a fortnight!"

Which is another reason we need Sunday Mass, what I’ve been writing about lately. To quit going to Sunday Mass because of the sin and scandal among a few priests, sisters and bishops is like refusing to vote because we’re fed up with Washington, or like refusing to go to a doctor because there have been some real quacks.

Most spasms of scandal, sin, embarrassment and shock—like now—lead to renewal and purification in the Church, making her stronger and more effective.

That’s not natural. It’s supernatural.

Ask St. Peter…ask Philip…ask our resilient Catholic faithful…ask Mario Cuomo.

In the end, it’s not about us anyway. It’s all about Jesus.

He assured us that "the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church." He didn’t assure us they wouldn’t keep trying.