When bad things happen to us, do we bear any of the responsibility?
This is a hard question, exceedingly politically incorrect, more likely to provoke temper tantrums than serious thought -- particularly in an age filled with incentives to play the role of victim and put the blame on somebody else. But serious thought is exactly what this question deserves. If we bear any measure of responsibility for bad situations that we find ourselves in, then, however painful or difficult or humiliating, we ought to attend to that which gives rise to such responsibility.
Take, for example, the problem of bad priests and bishops. It is no secret that they are out there, and always have been, ever since Judas Iscariot. The great heresies and schisms that have plagued the Church down the centuries have been midwived by priests. There are priests and bishops who neglect their flocks; who exploit their flocks; who lead their flocks astray. There are even some who are guilty of the most unspeakable and filthy crimes imaginable, disgracing the priesthood and bringing good and faithful priests into disrepute. There certainly seem to be times when the number of bad priests and bishops increases. It appears that we have been living through just such a time.
The question naturally arises: why does God permit this? Yesterday I came across this disturbing quote from St. John Eudes, priest and reformer of the 17th century:
The most evident mark of God's anger, and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world, is manifest when He permits His people to fall into the hands of a clergy who are more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds. They abandon the things of God to devote themselves to the things of the world and, in their saintly calling of holiness, they spend their time in profane and worldly pursuits. When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people and is visiting His most dreadful wrath upon them.
Take a minute to read that a few times.
Can this be right? Is it possible our present sufferings really have roots in our own conduct? There is no doubt that western civilization in general is going to hell in a bucket, but does God have a reason to be angry with Catholics in particular? We are supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The Pope recently warned us that we are on the brink of a new dark age. Could we have come to such a pass if Catholics had not been lying down on the job? Consider:
-- How many of us attend Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation? How many of us think it's okay to miss Mass without a good reason?
-- How many of us go to confession at least once a year?
-- How many of us receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin?
-- How many of us believe in the Real Presence?
-- How many of us behave appropriately in church?
-- How many of us see nothing wrong with contraceptives or infertility treatments that divorce procreation from the marital act?
-- How many of us see nothing wrong with abortion?
-- How many of us see nothing wrong with homosexuality or sex outside of marriage?
-- How many of us think we can reject any doctrines of the Church that we disagree with?
-- How many of us pray and do penance?
-- How many of us study our faith?
-- How many of us fail to carry out the duties of our state in life?
-- How many of us think it's possible to sin without affecting others?
We cannot be unfaithful as Catholics and expect to escape the consequences. The next time a priest makes headlines on account of some misconduct, or we hear a priest preaching heresy from the pulpit, or we see abuses in the liturgy, instead of giving ourselves virtuous airs, perhaps we ought to take that as our cue to amend our lives, do penance and make reparation.