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. 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. 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 faithfully, and to offer the Mass reverently and prayerfully. You will expect your priests to live sacrificial, obviously holy lives for love of God and His people. How many of the laity, how many bishops or priests, expect that of our priests today? It is as if we have all made a pact that holiness is unattainable. And by lowering our standards for our priests, we subsequently lower our standards for ourselves as well, calling chastity old fashioned, and fidelity to the vows marriage impossible.
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 actually flew, because it was God who lifted him from earth. Apple Computer has done a world of good, but it has also given us access to interactive pornography, the ability to network terrorist attacks and to spread hate speech, and a host of other unintended consequences. Who will provide moral clarity for Apple’s powerful new technologies? Who will encourage us to use these powers for good, and who will pray to obtain God’s blessing in this brave new world?
The world needs, now more than ever, holy priests. Men who will “shun all the wiles of the devil, and with pure mind follow the only God” (Collect from last Sunday). We need priests who can fly. Expect this of your priests and bishops, and the crisis will end.