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The Readings for the Memorial of St Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ait illi Jesus : Si vis perfectus esse, vade, vende quae habes, et da pauperibus, et habebis thesaurum in caelo : et veni, sequere me.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”


In the sixth century, St Benedict went to Rome and found corruption and vice. So he moved to the country and started a community of monks to be saved despite all the problems. Benedict, like every great reformer, but salvation, his and other’s, first, before culture, or even before the institution of Church. His order grew, becoming not only the salvation of the Catholic Church, but also of the culture of Europe, storing up knowledge lest it be lost in the final collapse under invading barbarians. 600 years along, however, it was the order that needed saving.

The recent scandals in the church seem a perfect attack: dividing brother against brother and giving ammunition to those who would spread heresy and immorality. It adds fuel to the fires of those advocating both for a change in sexual morality and those who are advocating for a near Donatist purge of the church from all they deem evil and impure; even sometimes including the laity in a sort of “red scare” sort of mentality. At the same time, this is all playing into the hands of those on the outside who would weaken the Church not by virtue of laws or persecution, but rather by attrition, both of population and moral authority. This active inculcation of indifference is as deadly as a “culture war” without any of the blood or emotions.

We have to admit that a wealthy, comfortable, culturally ensconced church, not only embedded in the world, but down right in bed with it, is without moral authority any way. 

So here’s St Bernard, the man who took the Order of St Benedict and spun it back to its roots because it (the Order) had grown fat, powerful, and lazy. This Spiritual Obesity had led to hardening of the arteries, and an advanced case of necrosis in several places. This was echoed in the Church as well: for when the monastic orders begin to fail the Church is unhealthy at her heart. Bernard put salvation first.

Yesterday, Fr Joseph Illo preached a homily I hope will end up online (update: here it is) calling out the darkness in the Church and noting that he would rather sell the parish and the school if it would mean the defeat of the corruption in the Church. Salvation first.

I’m a new Catholic. I’m not as familiar with the names of those involved as I would have been if this were Orthodoxy or the Episcopal Church, but I’ve lived through the same sort of thing in both of those Churches. And in both the Bishops stayed in denial. No one talked about the financial and sex scandals in ECUSA, ditto in Orthodoxy. Everyone is talking about it in Rome just now, so maybe it will mean something else. 

And yet, at the same time, as Christians, the world will still try to bully us into following the world’s rules.

The Church is not the 100% Pure Virgin Bride, she is the Abominable Bride. But she is growing more and more pure as this moves. I take great comfort that the report in PA covers events that are nearly all before 2002. The Church can move forward. But at the same time, the Cardinal McCarrick affair is ongoing. Most churches in SF (even the most conservative ones, Orthodox and Catholic) have gay couples in them. In most cases not only the pastors but also prelates are aware. And this article by Fr Dwight was a painful eye opener, but I was already aware of this particular issue by virtue of friends who had dated clergy, and clergy who had counselled me to be sure to use condoms…

It’s all the same culture: the laity have no place to call out the clergy (and vice versa) as long as we each have our own favourite sins. For every clergyman acting out, there’s a couple with condoms, or a pro-choice Catholic politician taking communion from a knowing pastor. We’re dying from the inside – but it’s all of us together, not just from the top down. And I’m not above tying some of this (but not all) to grandstanded, irreverent liturgies partaking of the Heresy of Formlessness. 

So, there we are. That’s the Church we have just now. The Abominable Bride. I’m too new: I don’t know everyone’s names, but I’m not angry, I’m just being realistic. We are Christians and we must save – and forgive – even those who are here with less than honorable intentions, even nefarious ones. We must love them. Fully. In the hopes that some of the weeds can become wheat again. Salvation first. At one time, with her own courts, the Church knew that salvation required honesty about sins and yet avoiding the secular power structures. St Thomas Becket died to preserve the Church’s right to her own courts – even in the case of murder.


Sadly we’re not there any more. And Paul’s counsel not to bring one another before the secular courts (in front of non-believers) fall now on deaf ears. Yet Fr Illo reminded us that God can use even the secular courts as a scourge, as certainly as God used the Philistines, Nebuchadnezzar, and Darius. So we’ve set ourselves up for this one. Fr Illo is right: because a church devoid of riches, social position, and political power would be far less attractive to folks who are not here for anything else. And Pope Benedict XVI agrees:

From today’s crisis will emerge a church that has lost a great deal. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges. It will become small and will have to start pretty much over again. It will be a more spiritual church and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.

We need a Bernard to loop us back to the very beginning. To pull us, again, towards Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: sell all you have and come follow me. We need one fast, before God lets the world force us to do so.


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