Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Fr. Corapi: What if Christ had quit because of injustice?

"Ecce Homo" by Antonio Ciseri, 1871

UPDATE JUNE 6, 2011 @7:05am | On July 5, 2011, Fr. Corapi's Superior, Fr. Gerry Sheehan issued another statement concerning his case.  Please see my post: SOLT superior responds to Corapi's "false statements and characterizations"

UDPDATE JUNE 19, 2011 @10:30PM | Folks, the National Catholic Register has a statement from Father Corapi's superiors. I am more disheartened than ever at what I am reading. I see several problems, but I simply do not have the time to offer anything right now, and it is way past my bed time. It may be days before I can get back to it. Let me just say this: In the old days, and even in some quarters today, men give up their good names, reputations and lives before their Roman collars. This case is an example of how when the going gets tough, the tough simply create confidentiality agreements, then sue people if they issue a complaint, and tie the hands of superiors trying to get to investigate to find the truth.   There are so many worldly things coming to light in this case, and unfortunately, I'm afraid they may go right over the heads of too many people.  I'll offer more another time, perhaps later in the week, but the schedule is very tight.  I stand by what is in my post below for general purposes and much of it is still applicable.

With regards to the latest development in the case of Father John Corapi, I was going to refrain from any comment until there was some reaction out of the Diocese of Corpus Christi or the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.  That was because I found the video theme, imagery, and certain arguments put forth odd enough to consider the possibility that Father Corapi's site had been hacked after it was suggested to me by a priest.  [see audio in video form here | transcript of text here]. This post is made with the assumption that it is authentic, and if it later proves to be a hoax, then the general principles laid out here, ought still to be of some benefit for reflection.  I hope to read some thoughts after you read what I present, most especially from priests.

I will refer to him as "Father" in this post because while he can quit acting as a priest he cannot remove the mark of the priesthood on his soul that will be with him for eternity (ccc 1583).  When the Church declares or affirms him laicized, I will then change how I refer to him.

I have been reading, and discussing the case with people as they learn of the situation.  In person, and online, among those who respected him for his solid preaching, whether they like his style or not, reaction has varied.  Some are dismayed, disturbed, and indignant; others are angry with the bishops feeling he had no choice. 

First, let me say that I too feel there is injustice in how certain cases are handled.  It also seems that the bishops are unwilling to subject themselves to the same fate should similar accusations come forth.   Father Dwight Longenecker gives some sad examples from Philadelphia in his post on this subject, and I was drawn into his post to offer a comment.  Here, I am repeating that comment, editing it with additional quotes, thoughts and comments, expanding on it, if you will.

I can't possibly know what it is like for an innocent priest to wait for that false accusation to come, or to be accused, causing him to loose his faculties, to be suspended from public ministry, to be scorned and humiliated in such a way.  But Christ does know.

Father Corapi's Third Option

I don't know if Father Corapi is guilty of the things he is accused of.  That's not even the point of this post.

Father Corapi said he had only two options.  I believe he had a third option: Imitate Christ who suffered the greatest injustice known to mankind, at our own hands, in silence. 

It's true that Father Corapi is not St. Pio.  Many are bringing up the great Italian Capuchin as a role model for priests who are unjustly accused because of what he suffered.  No two people are alike.  We may not all receive the same graces.  That is not in our control, but acting on graces, and practicing virtue is within our control.  Only God knows the fullness of truth here, so I want to shift and examine what some of the saints have to offer in the area of unjust accusations, persecutions from within, and more.

But is the experience of "yesterday's saint" relevant today?

We should never look at the saints of yesterday as not relevant for today. There are many more saints who have entered heaven, than are recorded.  Why then, do we know of some, and not others.  If we weren't meant to use them as role models, why bother going through a canonization process? It does not change their status, but it puts a spotlight on them for us to reference. The circumstances may change, but the principles do not because they are rooted in Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

St. Pio of Pietrelcina

In the book Padre Pio: The True Story by Bernard Ruffin, he recounts that after Vespers on June 11, 1931, Padre Raffaele summoned Pio to the friary parlor to read the decree received, without comment:
"Padre Pio is to be stripped of all faculties of his priestly ministry except the faculty to celebrate the Holy Mass, which he may continue to do provided it is done in private, within the walls of the friary, in the inner chapel, and not publicy in church".

The saint's response:

"God's will be done,"...then he covered his eyes with his hands, lowered his head, and murmured, "The will of the authorities is the will of God."

Following the will of God, right to the Cross

That is the point. The will of God for a priest will come through his bishop and/or religious order/community superiors. It's easy to see that an assignment a priest gets to a parish from his bishop is the will of God.  He might be happy there.  But his next assignment may be as a chaplain at a hospital or university, or at a desk in the chancery, and he may not desire this.  Saying, "yes" in such a case, is taking up one's cross.  For a Carmelite monk in a monastery who may desire to work outside in the garden, and may have a talent for doing so, it may be the will of God for him to work in the kitchen or laundry room.  Such a monk who has grown with grace and reached a certain level of spiritual maturity understands that the suffering he endures by having to do one thing, when he wants to do another, is a form of redemptive suffering, which is pleasing to God when done meekly and without complaint.  (Col. 1:24)  Anyone discerning a vocation needs to understand this point.  You are giving up your life to God, and His will for you, will come through those put over you, imperfect as they may be.

Father Corapi certainly has a gift in preaching.  But as a priest, especially a  priest in a Society of Apostolic Life, he does not get to make the call on where he is assigned, and what he does.  There are many priests, religious, and even lay people who have talents for doing certain things, but circumstances hinder them.  God can open doors, and he can shut them.  God shut the door on Father Corapi's preaching when he was put on administrative leave.  When the matter is out of our control, it is all but certain that God is permitting the thing to happen.  It's our response to the thing that God is looking for.

Opportunities for redemptive suffering can come for a priest in the form of persecution and injustices.  We have Christians in the Middle East, in Asia, in Africa, and other parts of the world suffering in ways that we cannot imagine, often by the hand of governments, or the people next door. We can easily see the connection between this suffering and the imitation of Christ on the Cross.

Other persecutions and injustices include those that can come from within the Church. That these happen, should not be a surprise.  Reading the lives of many saints, we see this over and again, that among the trials they suffered, came at the hands of those who were suppose to be at their side.  The very people who should have held them up, were pushing them down.  But did not Christ suffer similarly?

While Satan can be an instigator, or even drive that bus, more often than not, what is involved is human imperfections.  Also, God could be drawing straight with someone else's crooked lines, using them as an instrument to give us an opportunity to practice some virtue, or to offer up some sacrfice.  Saint Teresa of Avila said, "I'm sick and tired of those people who go about saying: 'The devil, the devil, the devil,' when instead they should be saying 'God, God, God'. I fear these kinds of persons more than the devil himself." (ST. TERESA OF AVILA,Vol. I; p. 13 and p. 170).  The very bishops that some look upon as "the enemy" may make errors of judgment, accept misguided advice, or take an imprudent path, more than to willfully engage in wicked behavior.

Think about a pearl, which is created by friction within the shell of a clam.  In a  like manner, God permits people in our lives to "rub us the wrong way", to hurt us - physically and emotionally, to misunderstand us, to humiliate us, and even to end our lives.  Not only do these serve as opportunities for redemptive suffering, but the friction serves to shape our souls into perfection like that beautiful pearl.   Saint Lawrence, who was literally being executed by roasting, told his executioners to turn him over, "this side is done". Even as he died a horrific and painful death, he practiced virtue. Perhaps his example at such a time won a few souls over to Christ.

God will often permit this kind of trial and persecution of priests from within the Church - by both the good and virtuous  (i.e., misunderstandings, imprudence, poor judgment), or through the wicked (false accusations, envy, revenge).  The reasons for such things are known only to Him. However, as we see in such cases as St. Pio, one's response to persecution from within can prove out heroic virtue.   St. John of the Cross prayed to be despised and suffered immensly from persecution from within.  Why would he do this, if not for a desire to follow Christ in his Passion?

Next to accepting with docility a physical martyrdom, there can be no greater imitation of Christ for an innocent priest who is falsely accused than to accept with docility a fate that comes to him through those put over him by God, even if it involves an unjust system. God coulld easily remove this obstacle, if and when, He so willed because He is God.

I believe that there is a serious deficiency in our understanding of the spiritual life, most especially, the virtues and how the Cross comes in to play. It's not sufficient for us to know the facts of the faith well. We have to practice virtue, and we must practice it "in season and out of season".  Virtue doesn't wait. Not acting on opportunities - big and small - to practice it weakens a soul's response to temptations. Our priests are under tremendous strain with the shortage today, but not greater than what the priests of yesterday experienced. Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who saw a priest with scarcity in his youth due to conditions in the former USSR, can attest to that. I believe that priests and lay people back in those days had the benefit of understanding the importance of practicing the virtues more intimately, and the role of the Cross in our daily life. (Luke 9:23) This needs to be recaptured to stem this loss of good men who are yielding in various ways.

St. Pio's postulator - Father Florio Tessari, in an inteview in L'Osservatore Romano had this to say about him (Catholic News Agency, June 2009):

Padre Pio was “a friar, a religious priest who profoundly observed the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) in his life. He suffered difficulties in silence like an authentic Cyrenean and at the same time was crucified without a cross..."
He went on to point to two fundamental elements that led to Padre Pio’s canonization: “Faith to the bitter end and obedience also to the bitter end, despite the difficulties he encountered in his life..."

One more quote from St. Pio is worth meditating on.  It comes from the same book by Bernard Ruffin.  He talks about a visit made by his friend and former teacher, Padre Agostino.  The priest said that Pio did not complain or make objections, especially in a public way.  Agostino asked him how he passed his time.  The saint responded:

"I pray and I study as much as I can, and then I annoy my Brothers."

He went on to elaborate on that last part, that he jokes with his brothers. In other words, he fully accepted God's will for him, not stewing in the injustice that had befallen him.

The Simplicity and Docility of St. Dominic Savio

St. Dominic Savio, a patron saint of the falsely accused was faulted in school for a prank he did not commit and was punished for it after he did not protest his innocence. He chose a path of docility and silence. Later, when the teacher, Father Cugliero discovered he didn't do it, he asked Savio why he didn't defend himself. St. Dominic said:

"I thought of our Lord when He was unjustly accused. He didn't say a word either."

Bottom Line: That persecution of innocent clerics and lay people happens is nothing new in the history of the  Church, including that which comes from within. What is most important is one's response to that persecution. Grace always leads us to imitate Christ, who was obedient unto death, death on a Cross (Phil 2:8).

What if Our Lord Jesus Christ had not been silent, protested his innocence, and "quit" because he was falsely accused and suffered injustice at the hands of the imperfect men God had put over him?

Several times in this post I have used the word, "docility".  What does this mean in the spiritual life? Let's look at what Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ has to say.  Yesterday, June 18, marked not only the day of his birth, but of his priestly ordination.  He remarks in an article on virtues concerning "Childlikeness" about docility thus:

It means therefore to be willing to learn from God and here’s the hard one: the willingness to learn from God not of course as though God will, though of course He might, send us His own divine angelic messenger, normally not. Normally God teaches us through the circumstances of our daily lives. Especially those most painful circumstances called other people. That’s where we tend to be less than docile. Openness then to God’s teaching us especially through all whom He places into our lives. It is great, great wisdom to be so disposed as to be ready to learn from and I mean it, everyone from the youngest child to the oldest speaking to religious golden or diamond jubilarian .

Defending oursleves against untruths and injustices - St. Francis de Dales

A lamb, even as it is led to slaughter, is docile, unlike a pig which kicks and squeals to the bitter end.  And, so must we be when we are led to the kind of emotional slaughter that comes with injustice and false accusations.  Does this mean we ought never defend ourselves? See the answer below as St. Francis de Sales quotes St. Gregory on this point.

When any evil befalls you, apply the remedies that may be in your power, agreeably to the will of God; for to act otherwise would be to tempt divine Providence Having done this, wait with resignation for the success it may please God to send; and, should the remedies overcome the evil, return Him thanks with humility, but if, on the contrary, the evils overcome the remedies, bless Him with patience.
"The following advice of St. Gregory is useful: whenever you are 'justly accused' of a fault, humble yourself, and candidly confess that you deserve more than the accusation which is brought against you; but, if the charge be false, excuse yourself meekly, denying your guilt, for you owe this respect to truth, and to the edification of your neighbor. But if, after your true and lawful excuse, they should continue to accuse you, trouble not yourself nor strive to have your excuse admitted; for, having discharged your duty to truth, you must also do the same to humility, by which means you neither offend against the care you ought to have of your reputation, nor the love you owe to peace, meekness of heart, and humility."

On Father Corapi

A  priest should always lead us to Christ.  If we find ourselves being led to the man, rather than to He whom the priest must always lead us, then it is time to remedy the attachment. 

In closing this post, I can only encourage you to pray and offer sacrifices up for Father Corapi, and for those who have developed a deep attachment to him.

We do not know his status, not until it is reported to us by the Church.  Some believe that he is doing this to help other priests who may be innocent victims of a flawed process. Pope John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor (75) condemned consequentialism.  The end (fixing a process most of us feel is broken), does not justify the means (of breaking a promise he made when he put his hands into the hands of Pope John Paul II upon his ordination to the priesthood 20 years ago).

The mark of the priesthood is ever in the cross-hairs of the Angel of Darkness.  If he can get one priest to fall in some way, he knows very well how to use that attachment some have developmed to "the man" to win dozens, hundreds, or many thousands of others.

The Church is perfect, and Christ promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it.  But, he also established a hierarchy made up of men - men who are no less prone to the effects of Original Sin as the rest of us.  He knew some would lead with heroic virtue unto martyrdom, others would die to self in white martyrdom, and still others would do a great deal of time in purgatory, or earn their way into Hell for eternity.  Thank God, that judgment is up to He who knows the fullness of truth, and any mitigating circumstances even a guilty cleric may have.  We, for our part, should pray for their sanctity, do reparation for our sins and theirs, and beg for mercy for all mindful of our own sinfulness.

If you want to do something useful, go to an Adoration chapel and pray, and do so regularly for priests and bishops. 

Got thoughts?

I'm interested in hearing from you on this, most especially priests.  Also, if you have any examples of other saints who suffered persecution from within the Church, drop a mention in the combox.  Provide links or citations, where possible.

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