A Little Wisdom from the Catholic Spiritual Tradition

The devil’s standard strategy is a) tempt, followed by b) accuse. This is what the American Church has fallen for. We’ve been wheedled, cajoled, assured, pressured, threatened, and begged to say that the current sexual zeitgeist of American Culture is what the Church needs to conform to. And thanks to Progessive Street Priests Who Challenge the Hidebound Pope and his Outdated Sexual Morality (priests such as Paul Shanley) we’ve gotten it. Bishops caved to the temptation to conform to the zeitgeist.

Now–shazam!–we see phase two of the infernal strategy swing into action. Accuse. And do so without mercy, without hope of redemption, with withering, crushing malice. Thus, the curious trend in the media to say that abuse of boys, boys, boys, boys, boys, boys, and boys has nothing to do with homosexuality (which the bishops need to bless ASAP) while simultaneously damning the bishops for not doing anything about homosexual abusers. The goal is here is not hard to understand: destroy the Church. It’s the devil’s perennial goal.

Regarding this phenomenon of accusation bent on destruction (as distinct from conviction of sin with the ultimate goal of healing and restoration, mercy and justice): A priest I know once pointed out to me that one of the marks of the satanic is that it claims to see right through you, to identify you with your sins and pin you to the wall like a bug on a card. The devil, in speaking to Jesus, says “I know who you are!” He does the same to us. He says “I see right through you. You are your sins. This is who you really are!”

In contrast, Jesus never does this. Indeed, in the miracle of grace he distinguishes us from our sins and frees us from them. Peter says, “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man” and Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re damn right you are! You sicken me!”. He liberates Peter from that. He calls him by a new name and gives him a new life.

Something that troubles me about the way in which we treat sin is this tendency to speak as though our sins name us. “Now we know who Jesse Jackson–or Cardinal Law–or Whoever–really is.”

The answer of the Faith is, “No you don’t. Not when you are naming people by their sins.” Sin is what destroys persons. It’s not what constitutes them. To the degree that we sin we are not who we really are. Doesn’t mean that we can’t sin, of course. Radical evil is a reality. Nor does it mean that we should not speak clearly of evil when it is committed. But when we say that “This is who X really is” we are in fact delighting in evil and rejoicing in a lie. The point of the gospel is not that our sins name us, but that Jesus comes to free us from our sins and really name us. It’s a reality we as Catholic will have to cling to, not least because of the temptation we will feel to indulge it as more betrayals from our clergy come to light.

Such revelation will, it is true, show what evil our clergy have done. They will not in the least show “who they really are.” No sin does that. Jesus Christ alone is the image of who we really are.


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