Outrage and Outrageous Mercy

There's a retired priest in our town who travels to the different parishes when a pastor is off duty. I was sitting in a pew, wrestling a three-year-old before Mass one day, when I saw this particular priest in the sacristy putting on his vestments. My stomach lurched because I knew then that Mass would take a very long time. He always gives a rambling 45-minute homily. He also cries, every. single. time. he reads the Gospel.

It wasn't too late to drive three miles over to the other parish in town. I'd only be a few minutes late getting there. But I felt this guilty sensation: what if scads of people escaped to other parishes every time I showed myself in Church?

I stayed.

During the Gospel, as ordained, Father cried when Jesus said, "One of you will betray me," and Judas dipped his morsel in the cup with Jesus. For some reason, on this day, the tears touched me. It was sad that Judas would betray Jesus, and that Jesus knew it, and Judas knew it, but that no one would stop it. It was sad that Judas would condemn his own soul as a result.

During the homily, Father let us know that it was the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He thanked us for celebrating with him. He recalled his baptism. He recalled his time in the seminary, and how during a homiletics course, his professor chastised him for using the term, "we sinners" in a homily, saying, "Never, ever, admit from the pulpit that you are a sinner."

"My teacher was a very good and holy man who did much good for the Church," said the retired priest, "but that is the one lesson I learned in seminary with which I have never agreed. Just as the Gospel points out today, good and evil have always existed side by side in every man, but Christ."

In the wake of Father Thomas Williams' revelation that he fathered a child during his priesthood, there have been a few blog posts going around that insist, it is okay to feel outrage about this situation. It's not uncharitable to discuss the scandal, and we have a right to our feelings of anger about it.

To which I say, thank you for the permission to feel outrage. But not only do I not need another charismatic leader telling me how to function, the feeling of outrage at other people's sins seems too easy to be the right response.

I recognize that many of these posts come from people who have had ties in the past to Regnum Christi or the Legion, and so they are used to being told that they should not discuss the failings they see in others.

I have to admit that the sense of charity offered to others, assuming the best of people, even though it contributed to a culture of silence, is something I miss from my RC days.

At the time, it bothered me that I couldn't go into the dorms with another co-worker and complain about the Consecrated lady whose heavy footfall in the hallway always meant that she was coming to ask: "Can you do me a favor?" She had so many favors to ask, and I just wanted to point it out to someone—"Have you noticed she always asks for favors, and they're always totally easy things she could do for herself? Isn't that annoying?"

I could not wait to point out that the emperor had no clothes. She acted holy but she wasn't. I could recognize it, and all that was left for me to do was to say it out loud to someone, so we could feel mutual annoyance, and experience a bond. Keeping my feelings to myself was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

In the internet age, there are many, many watchdogs waiting to point out that the emperor has no clothes. It's good, I suppose, that people, especially priests, aren't getting away with tough sins. And it's definitely good that they no longer get away with crimes—but what surprises me about all this information is that it doesn't feel as good to dwell on it as I thought it would feel.

I want to feel outrage. My gut instinct says OUTRAGE! But, there's a still small voice that says, Lord, protect me from the kind of thinking that says, I would never do that. I would never be unfaithful to my vocation. I would never deceive people who believed in me. I would never maintain the office of speaking for the faith when my private life was such a mess. What a Judas-y thing to do.

The problem with thinking that way is that A) it's not accurate, and B) it distracts me from the outrage I should feel for my own failings. In different circumstances, with a different psychology, I have been unfaithful. I have been deceptive.

Do I feel outrage about the time I hid the receipt for an online purchase until the evidence was on my doorstep? Am I outraged about my pride? About trying to control people? About not praying? About my out-of-control anger? About giving less than I can to the poor? About being uncharitable in my thoughts toward good and faithful priests who happen to test my patience?