In a week I will lead my congregation through the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet, in the liturgical service known as Tenebrae (“darkness”). We will bewail the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, the year the Chosen People were erased, “canceled” by foreign armies. As the Jewish People were decimated, seemingly beyond restoration, so the Catholic Church is becoming decimated, beyond recognition. Whose fault is it? In the Book of Lamentations, the enemies of Israel are only the instrumental cause of their downfall. God permitted Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Athens, and Rome to destroy Jerusalem because of the sins of her people, who are the effective cause of their destruction. It was their own infidelity that ruined them.
In 2002 terrible crimes against young people were revealed in the Boston Archdiocese. Most of these crimes were homosexual acts—clergy forcing themselves on post-pubescent males. A modern prophet, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, stated that the problem was “fidelity, fidelity, and fidelity:” the infidelity of bishops, priests, and laypeople. They had turned away from God’s laws in so many ways, which eventually led to the horror of “the fathers” sexually abusing their own spiritual sons and daughters. But it began with lay people skipping Mass on Sunday, lazy priests not teaching the faith, bishops living in worldly luxury, married couples contracepting, and clerics violating their vows of celibacy. The established Church has turned away from God, has become weak, and will be largely destroyed.
In San Francisco, the Church once flourished. You can still see the moldering monuments of a once-vibrant Catholicism and Christianity in her large churches all over the city. Some have become badly-maintained museums, some have become nightclubs, and many are simply decaying, like the Methodist church a block from me. It has been abandoned, its windows vacant and its halls silent, with mold and algae covering its gables and towers. The art, the music, the popular festivals, and the dynamic collaboration between mayor and archbishop are just fading memories.
I read this line in Lamentations 2:14 this morning: “The visions your prophets had on your behalf were delusive, tinsel things; they never pointed out your sin, to ward off our exile.” The vast majority of Catholics are drinking the poisoned Kool Aid our cultural elites serve up to us, and the priests are just smiling. Our priests are not pointing out our sin. A common lament among faithful Catholics is that we never hear our priests preach on hell, or the things that send us to hell, like fornication, contraception, abortion, and unnatural sexual practices. Most priests never touch those topics because the people don’t want to hear it. I preached one too many times on abortion in a former parish, and the chair of the Finance Council, the biggest attorney in town, pulled me aside. “Father, I don’t want to hear any more about abortion, or I will pull my money from this parish.” He did pull his money and his family from the parish, but the parish flourished without him. It was a tragedy, however, to see him leave.
Jean-Claude Hollerich, Cardinal Archbishop of Luxembourg, assured the world recently that the Church’s official teaching on same-sex acts is wrong and must be changed. That made him a darling with mainstream culture, of course, and won him much support from wealthy elites. Emboldened by the wealthy cardinal’s statement, the Franciscan chaplain of St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, Fr. Daniel P. Horan, also declared that the Church’s moral teaching on homosexual acts is mistaken, and indeed wicked.
“Your prophets,” said Jeremiah, “spoke tinsel things to you. They never pointed out your sin.” Calling out people’s sins is distasteful, even hateful, to me. It’s painful for priest and people alike. But a father must correct his children when they act irrationally, and in the long run the children love their fathers for doing so. Preaching the truth in love will always earn a priest enemies, but many of those enemies will be reconciled to God and neighbor if the priest stays the course.
Some priests and bishops are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are intentionally working to dismantle the church. Most priests, however, are simply weak and timid. So here’s a suggestion for the vast majority of our clergy: if you are not ready to accuse your people of their sin from the pulpit, try to get them into the confessional. There they will accuse themselves, and they will be healed. Simply sit in the confessional every day, before every Mass, and eventually they will start coming. The model for all parish priests, St. John Vianney, spent most of his priesthood (up to 16 hours a day) in the confessional. Our children know they are unhappy, and they know the truth about God and man. They will come, if you wait for them. It may take a few months, but you can catch up on your reading in the confessional while you wait for them to come home. Your mother and your father probably waited up many a night for you to come home. Now do it for your children.