Like many Catholics who are disgusted with the sins of the hierarchy—even our own cardinal archbishop—I have been looking for answers on how we as a people of faith can move forward in light of such failures at the highest levels of our Church. Especially with two children in Catholic school, this isn’t a theoretical exercise. How are we supposed to raise our children in a church that has been infiltrated with men of evil intent?
For those coming to The Upper Room whose trauma includes similar acts of sexual abuse, the failure of our consecrated leadership rips opens old wounds and can make the Church—which is supposed to be a safe place where healing can begin—into another trigger point for survivors desperate for a place of solace.
I turned to someone I’ve known most of my adult life, one of my dearest and most trusted friends who was just ordained a Catholic priest last year, and who was kind enough to stand as CJ’s confirmation sponsor earlier this year. Father Richard Jasper, 43, is in his second year of the priesthood in the Diocese of Wilmington, Del. Before joining the priesthood, Father Rich was a Catholic school teacher in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He shared the homily he gave this past Sunday, and I hope you find it as helpful as I did.
For those who didn’t attend Mass, the Gospel was John 6:60-69.
It's my hope that Father Rich will use this blog as a regular space to share his homilies.
“Most of my high school classmates no longer attend [Mass].
A college friend called last week following the Pennsylvania Grand Jury findings to say she’s finished … walking away from it all.
And those of us here now are part of the estimated 40% of all Catholics that still attend mass on a weekly basis. (And truth be told, that percentage is probably too high.
We hear statistics like this and say: who can blame them for walking away?
A hierarchy in many dioceses that have been out of touch for so long, shepherds failing their sheep and our most innocent lambs …
Homilies that fail to inspire and rituals that don’t speak to us anymore …
Teachings that seem so out of step with the culture in which we live …
Why in the world do we stay?
As a brand-new priest, it never ceases to amaze me how just the right Scripture passage comes along at just the right time. It shows how the Word is truly alive … that God is speaking to us, right here … right now.
In today’s Gospel, those that were following Jesus – the countless disciples who were just told that their Messiah was offering them His very Flesh and Blood – were shocked by the news they just heard.
'How can this happen?' they ask. 'This saying is hard.'
And many choose to walk away, no longer accompanying Him.
They’re disgusted. And they’re tired. This Savior hasn’t quite lived up to their expectations. They still struggle; they still get sick; their land is still occupied by pagans.
'So, no, Jesus … I don’t want to stay,' they tell him.
I often wonder how painful that moment was for our Lord. He loved them passionately. But with authentic love comes true freedom, and so He had to let them go.
Love never forces.
And so, nearly alone, the Lord then turned to the ones that had been faithful – the ones who saw that Jesus was more than a miracle worker – and asked in love, 'Do you also want to leave?'
Peter the leader, in his boldness says, 'Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.'
Way to go, Peter!
Except … a few weeks later: Peter would be gone. Nowhere in sight.
When Jesus really needed his leadership – when Christ was suffering and dying on the Cross for the salvation of the world – Peter and the others were nowhere to be found.
But you know who was there when the Church was being born on Calvary Hill?
A mom; a single woman who had once lived a life of sin; a young man named John and a soldier who would later convert. Think about that: ELEVEN of the TWELVE Christ has chosen to begin his Church had betrayed him. Left him there to die alone.
But the women stayed … and one brave young man, too.
When most of the apostles – the men who would become our first bishops – abandoned ship, the laity stayed. Praying … mourning … watching with Christ … and determined to fight for His Good News.
They knew that this Jesus and His Gospel were worth fighting for, no matter the cost.
Others mocked them. They were called horrible names.
They didn’t care … they stayed.
They stayed out of love … not because of Peter. Not because of the 12. But because Love was before them on the Cross. And because Love came as their true and lasting Food for the journey.
They couldn’t abandon Love.
St. Paul uses a lot of husband and wife imagery in his letter to the Ephesians that we hear today in our second reading, one that can seem very dismissive of women and wives at first blush. Until, that is, you see the point Paul is really trying to make: As Christ loved the Church (us, the Body of Christ), so must we love.
Meaning this: Love another all the way to the Cross. Don’t abandon the Bride in her hour of need. She needs us to stay by her side at this moment in time, now more than ever.
Perhaps this story may capture what Paul and the Gospel is trying to tell us:
I was called in my early days of seminary formation to visit a nursing home in Baltimore where I found an elderly gentleman sitting by his wife’s bedside. She was very ill, in the throes of dementia, perhaps.
She could not speak or eat. She mostly stared and drooled a bit.
And there the husband sat, day after day, holding her hand. Wiping the drool. Loving in silence.
His bride needed him most in that hour, and he refused to leave.
I was privileged to witness a love for a very sick Bride … and it was a love worth fighting for, no matter the cost.
Our Bride is suffering today, too.
Many are leaving her in her hour of need. And Jesus now turns to us and says: 'Do you also want to leave?'”
— Rev. Richard Jasper