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Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Sinner Who Would Not Be Broken

"He spoke of his encounter with a woman in Buenos Aires who “reproached” him. She said that priests study for the priesthood for years and can get permission to leave the priesthood to marry and have a family. For the laity, this woman said, “we have to do the sacrament for our entire lives, and indissolubly, to us laity they give four (marriage preparation) conferences, and this is for our entire life.”"
Everyone commenting on the Pope's recent remarks on marriage are up-in-arms. Why? That part is not clear. I haven't talked to a priest in the last 20 years who says anything different. Priests who work on marriage tribunals have been saying what the Pope just said for a long, long time. Marriage preparation is terrible, most people getting married (or getting any other sacrament, for that matter, from baptism to confirmation to the Eucharist itself) don't really understand the sacrament they are receiving.

But what I want to focus on here is something quite different. By including the priesthood in with the comparison to marriage, the Pope wasn't making new remarks on marriage - anyone paying attention to the situation agrees with the Pope's remarks - he was making interesting remarks about the priesthood.

Think of all the priests who are badly formed. Priests who abuse the liturgy, priests who refuse to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass or refuse to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass. Priests who attack the pope from the ambo or praise homosexuality or refuse to teach the evils of contraception and abortion, refuse to acknowledge the laity's right to defend themselves with a gunpowder weapon (a right which is simply a corollary of just war doctrine), etc., etc., etc. ad nauseum.

As the papal remark points out, priests receive years of training, but they are generally just as crazy as the laity. The papal remarks are so stunning precisely because they strike at the heart of a popular American conceit, the conceit that education solves everything.

If we just teach people well enough, send them through enough training classes, perhaps even give them a lovely degree, they will be educated out of original sin. It is the American belief that the associate's degree is more salvific than God's grace, that the university professor, teacher, instructor priest, in short, some man or woman standing in front of a classroom, can do a better job than Jesus.

If anything proves the falsity of that idea, it is the priesthood. We train them for years, but they still don't necessarily understand the sacrament they receive any better than the burbling infant whose head is doused with water or the couple that exchanges vows in front of the altar.

God's grace is a great mystery, a mystery none of us understand very well. We receive this wrapped gift, we spend our lives trying to unwrap it and use it, and in the end, despite all of our training and our discussions and books and seminars and conferences, the vast, vast majority of us still simply, utterly, completely fail.

We are broken and we don't like to hear that we are broken. The remaking of a single fallen man is a work greater than the original creation of the world. We know that, but we don't really think the fact applies to us.

That's why so many people, especially traditionalists, are upset with this Pope.
We don't want to face the reality.
We don't want to face how broken each of us really is.

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