St. Joseph of Cupertino
Yesterday I celebrated (in the older calendar) the feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino, a Franciscan of the 17th Century who was academically deficient. He is the patron saint of students who can’t seem to pass their exams, but also the patron saint of pilots, since God gave St. Joseph of Cupertino the gift of flying. He would levitate in sometimes spectacular ways while at prayer. The readings for his feast day speak of “wedding garments,” and how the King was angry at the guest who refused to clothe himself in the festal vesture provided to all those invited to the Great Banquet.
St. Joseph of Cupertino was a Franciscan, and last Sunday a Franciscan brother came to Mass in his flowing brown habit and swishing white cord with three knots. Franciscans are poor, but the Order gives them splendid vesture, which serve as their wedding garments. Unfortunately, many priests, brothers, and nuns have put aside the habit given them by the Church. They refuse to attend the Great Banquet of life dressed in festal attire. And this is a telling sign.
Yesterday I received an email from a faithful former parishioner. “As a Catholic,” he wrote, “I am embarrassed by the failure of our Church to deal with this issue of priests abusing children.” We are more than embarrassed, of course. We are horrified, and confused as to how the Body of Christ can be so ugly, so filthy. Is this really the Church Christ founded, the Church described by St. Paul as the “spotless bride of Christ”?
To Whom Else Can We Go?
Yes, it is. In the words of St. Peter, “to whom else shall we go?” What other Church has the Sacraments, the authentic Word of God, the blood of martyrs and the witness of confessors? The fundamental issue, as we all know, is holiness. We don’t expect our priests to be holy. How many times have well-meaning Catholics said to me “Father, you’re only human.…” “Priests are regular guys too….” “I think priests should be able to get married just like any other man….” If the Church wants her priests to be just “regular guys,” then we will get priests who commit the same crimes regular guys commit. I’m fairly certain that at least 3% of Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu clerics commit the crimes Catholic clerics commit. I’m dead certain far more than 3% of the general population abuse children and young men. So why do we hold Catholic priests to a higher standard? Because we all know that the Catholic Church is the true Church. Catholic priests must be held to a higher standard, because they are given greater graces—valid ordination, the Holy Eucharist daily, and time to pray (for starters).
No End to This Crisis Without Priests Who Can Fly
I will not believe in any significant reform until I see you expecting your priests to be holy. We are not just regular guys. We are sacramentally configured to Christ. Does anyone believe that anymore? If so, you will demand that your priests, for starters, wear their “wedding garments.” You will demand, or at least warmly exhort, your priests and religious to wear their habits and clerical garb, which very few do (it’s a pain). You will expect your priests and bishops to fast on Fridays, to tithe from their income, and to do a daily Holy Hour. You will expect us to pray our breviary as we vowed to do (I would say less than half of priests and bishops pray the breviary faithfully). You will expect your clergy to work 12 to 15-hour days, getting up early and to bed late. You will expect them to preach the Scriptures and doctrines of our Church trustworthily, and to offer the Mass reverently and prayerfully and faithfully. You will expect your priests to live sacrificial, obviously holy lives for love of God and His people. How many laity, how many bishops or priests, expect that of our priests today? It is as if we have all agreed that holiness is a bit fanatical and really too difficult. A holy priest embarrasses us.
The City of Cupertino, 40 miles south of San Francisco, is headquarters to Apple Computer. Gazing into Steve Jobs’ slim little machines feels like flying—access to new and beautiful worlds, surveying the universe from the vast heights of unlimited information. But not really. In fact, Apple Computers are just little bits of aluminum and silicon. It was the original Cupertino, the Franciscan in his wedding garment, who really flew, because it was God who lifted him from earth. Apple Computer has done a world of good, but it has also given us the power to store thousands of child pornography images in our back pocket. It has given us the ability to plan terrorist attacks, to spread hate speech, and to keep half the world in poverty. Who will provide moral clarity, encouragement to use these powers for good, and God’s blessing on our new technologies?
The world needs, now more than ever, holy priests. Men who are not blinded by the baubles and devices of human intelligence. We need priests who pray to the True God, priests who can see clearly, priests who can fly. Expect this of your priests and bishops, and the crisis will end.