Faith must be rooted in Christ and church, not individuals

| Father John Paul Erickson | July 20, 2011 | 0 Comments

These days, it seems like every couple of months new information is released that reminds the world that we priests are all too human.

These revelations are particularly painful when they involve well-known and greatly loved priests and pastors, men who have done great things in the name of the church or preached powerfully on the providence and mercy of God.

Confusion, anger and even a questioning of one’s faith can follow the very public failings of the church’s shepherds.  But such public humiliations of the bride of Christ can in fact serve as a purifying reminder that we are called to place our hope and trust in Jesus Christ and his bride the church and not in particular personalities.

And it also is a reminder that the mysterious, indissoluble union of Christ and his beloved bride does not eliminate the broken and frail humanity of the church’s members, members through whom Christ acts by his own free choice and grace, and not due to the personal holiness of the individual.

Drawing closer to Christ

From the earliest years of the church’s life, the desire to identify oneself by one’s allegiance to a particular preacher or teacher of the faith, rather than with Jesus Christ and the creed of his church, has been a problem. Paul’s words to the Christian community of Corinth bear witness to this frustrating fact (1 Corinthians 1:10-31). In our day, the tendency to division, already present in the early church, can be exacerbated through television, the Internet, the radio, and yes, even the good old fashioned paper.

But it can also be exacerbated by the God-given talents of God’s shepherds, or rather, by focusing on these talents and the bearers of them too much, rather than allowing these talents and gifts to draw us closer to Christ himself and into deeper communion with the church and her shepherds, the bishops of the Catholic world who stand in union with the Holy Father.

This, of course, is the purpose of all spiritual gifts in the church — the building up of the mystical and hierarchical body of Christ, which is the church. When we become too focused on the particular spiritual gift, rather than the gift giver, who is God the Father of all, our disappointment at the gift bearer’s failures can be an unduly burdensome trial.

Likewise, stubborn allegiance to a particular personality due to their charisma or talents can lead to division in our own life, a division that is not of God and part of discipleship, but one of pride and self-righteousness.

For the sake of the church

I am sure we all know of priests or bishops who have been given great gifts for the sake of communion with the church, the kind of gifts that are exercised in the pulpit or the confessional. The gifts of preaching, healing or prophesy are indeed wonderful gifts, but they are for the sake of the church, not the glory of the gift bearer.

It is well and it is good to thank your pastor after Mass for a great homily. Please do so. But remember to also pray for him, who is, after all, an earthen vessel. Equally important, remember to also thank God who has chosen, in divine freedom, to speak through this frail, broken man.

These days, it is all too easy to recognize the frailty of priests. But the fact is that this has always been the case. Christ chose to build his church upon the waffling, blustery Peter and 11 ordinary men with ordinary struggles, not the least of which was the temptation to run at the sign of danger.

By His grace and His patience they were made to be Apostles, bearing witness at the end of their lives to the truth of Christ by their blood.

Please pray that we priests, ordinary men that we are, might be made extraordinary through the virtues of faith, hope and love. In the end, they are the only gifts that truly matter.

 Father John Paul Erickson is director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.

Category: Commentary