“Scandal”- What exactly is scandal and what is it to be scandalized? Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary offers a variety of definitions that give insight into the depth of this word. One definition of scandal that seemed to stand out among the others is: Conduct that causes or encourages a lapse of faith or of religious obedience in another. In regard to the verb “scandalized” the dictionary adds: to offend the moral sense of: shock.
Why the vocabulary lesson? Over the course of the last few weeks many in our parish have heard about scandal in the Catholic community, and have been scandalized by the information that has been shared about events in two of our neighboring parishes. These accounts describe parishioners interrupting Mass and shouting at clergy as they delivered their homilies. In one case these accounts were shared through an e-mail that was widely disseminated throughout the Catholic community in Fort Collins and Denver. Unfortunately a splinter group has formed and is simulating the celebration of the Mass in a non-Catholic Church. These events are tragic, involve grave sin, and have victimized groups of faithful Catholics attempting to celebrate their sacramental life of faith. There has also been a sharing in our Lord’s passion for the clergy who have been caught in the crosshairs of rage.
I have been asked a variety of questions regarding these events and the e-mails that have been sent out to the Catholic community. The questions have included, but are not limited to: What can we do to assist our neighboring Catholic parishes during times of unrest? Could these events ever transpire at Saint Joseph Parish, and if so, what should we do? Is the Archdiocese aware of these events and are they doing anything about them? Are the e-mail correspondences being sent out to the faithful morally permissible to forward and speak about or is it participating in the continuation of gossip and scandal? Are these e-mails implying that we should leave Saint Joseph Parish and join another, or at least divide our time and tithing to help support neighboring clergy?
I would like to begin to answer these questions by referring to the inspired word of sacred scripture: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5
In this passage from Saint Paul’s second letter to Timothy we are forewarned that events like these will happen. These events should not cause us undue heartache as we remember that the Spirit is at work even in difficult times. In this way each faith community is similar to a family. In each of our families we have experienced the full spectrum of emotion from sorrow to joy. What has been imperative in each of these moments is our Christian call to abide with one another in faith, hope, and charity.
In times like these we should do what we would do for any other family that we know who is experiencing a crisis. We are called to pray, offer support and encouragement, and to be the love of Jesus Christ.
Is it appropriate to “spread the word” of these events? It depends on what the intention is in passing along information. To ask for help and prayer is entirely appropriate; to visit about misfortune for entertainment’s sake is gossip and can lead others to scandal. It is in these areas that we should use caution and prudence and call upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.
Should we attend Mass in troubled parishes and devote our tithing there to help support them through the storm? That is an answer only your own personal discernment can offer. However, it is important to recall that much like a family in crisis, even good friends can only do so much to assist the family in their struggles. It must be God-given grace within the family itself that resolves the issues at hand and bring the members to healing and peace. We must also take comfort in the fact that holy and qualified clergy lead and guide these parish communities with the spiritual authority of their office as pastor, and with the full support of the Archdiocese. As spiritual fathers they are best equipped to bring their families of faith to a place of living within God’s holy will.
In the end, we at Saint Joseph Parish know our own community has endured moments of trial and difficulty. In every instance we have seen that the parish was not broken by these challenges, but has grown through them to be the healthy, vibrant, and strong parish we are today. In fact these time have taught us that the healing grace that transformed our parish came from Christ’s holy presence within the community itself. Let us then recognize that in our current place of spiritual health and strength, we are best postured to pray our brothers and sisters through this moment of darkness toward the light of the Risen Christ. In this way let us heed Saint Paul’s charge to “be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.”