Romans 8: 18-23; Luke 5: 1 – 11
The Church’s Sins
Delivered by Most Reverend Roger LaRade, O.F.A.
Beloved Disciple Eucharistic Catholic Church, Toronto
We are already in mid-June, and this is our first ‘green’ Sunday. Following our celebration of the Mysteries of the Life of Christ, the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, the reality of the abiding Presence of Christ with us in His Body and Blood, and the Love of God in His Sacred and Eucharistic Heart, we are now in what the Church calls the time throughout the year, or ordinary time. The liturgy of the Church uses green as the colour for celebrations during this span of time: the colour of life, the colour of hope, the colour of growth.
This is very appropriate. It’s appropriate for this season of the liturgical year because during these Sundays after Pentecost, the liturgy focusses our attention, our meditation and prayer, on our growth in faith, that is, our growth in discipleship of Christ.
And so it is today that we find ourselves recalling the call of Christ to His first disciples. We find ourselves with Jesus in company of Simon Peter, and of James, and John, the sons of Zebedee. St. Luke does not mention Andrew, but St. Matthew and St. Mark mention him. We are with Jesus at the very start of his public ministry when He calls His first disciples to follow Him.
Here we are, after having witnessed the glories of Salvation history. We ourselves are strengthened in our faith, in our own discipleship of Jesus, by the knowledge of these Mysteries. At the time when Jesus calls His first disciples, they did not have this benefit. They did not have experience of Jesus yet. Nonetheless, they leave everything they had known, and they follow Him.
How much easier it should be for us to follow Jesus than it should have been for them. But, we also may have our doubts about following Jesus, about what following Jesus may mean for us.
Often, it is actions of Church members, and especially of Church representatives, that cause us doubt, and that all too often have caused a loss of faith for many. St. Augustine, in his commentary on this Gospel passage comments on this in relation to Peter’s statement to Jesus: Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinner in the context of Peter’s boat being almost submerged. He writes:
As though the Church, laden with carnal-minded (members), and almost submerged by their evil way of life, rejects as it were the rule of spiritual (members), in whom especially the life of Christ shines forth. For it is not merely by the word of the tongue that (members) tell the worthy servants of God to depart from them; but also by the voice of their deeds and evil living do they persuade them to depart from them…
With these words, St. Augustine states the truth that we all know: the Church is composed of sinners; some redeemed, some not; some intentionally devoted to better themselves, some not.
No doubt, examples of both come to mind in our personal encounters with some members of Christ’s Church. Often, it is examples of the carnal-minded members that come easiest to mind. We can recall other people telling us of personal encounters with Church members or Church representatives, be they priest or bishop, which have been painful for them, and indeed have caused them to depart from the Church, or at least to become lukewarm in their relationship to the Church, and even to Christ Himself. This always strikes me as tragic. The words of St. Augustine ring with a great deal of truth.
The words of St. Augustine ring with truth especially when we consider the more collective sins of the Church.
In our own times, we are confronted with the evil of child sexual abuse perpetrated by a multitude of Christ’s ministers in various denominations of His Church.
In this month when we celebrate LGBT Pride, those of us who are gay, lesbian or transgendered know the truth of St. Augustine’s words, for we have suffered at the hands of Christ’s ministers by being denied full acceptance of our personhood because of prejudiced and mistaken teachings on human sexuality; prejudice that all too often has resulted and still results in violence; physical, psychological and spiritual.
This month, we also hear the truth of the words of St. Augustine in the treatment of Native Peoples, especially in Church-operated residential schools. On June 21 is observed National Aboriginal Day. On that day, we will offer Mass in reparation for these sins, and in prayer for continued reconciliation.
The examples are all too numerous.
St. Augustine, in his reflection of Christ’s call to His disciples, does not stop at Peter’s words expressing his unworthiness. St. Augustine points to Jesus’ response to Peter’s desire that He depart from him. He writes:
But the Lord did not depart from them; showing by this that (those) who are good and spiritual should not wish, when troubled by the evil lives of others, to give up their own tasks in the Church…that they bringing their ships to land, and leaving all things, followed (Jesus)…(and)…will wholly retire from the sea of this world.
In this is indeed our hope: the Lord does not depart from us. No matter what evil may be done by His members, Christ does not depart from us. No matter how, and for what reason, we may lose hope in Christ’s presence in us, the Lord does not depart from us.
For us to be “spiritual (members), in whom especially the life of Christ shines forth”, as St. Augustine writes, we must continually examine our consciences and confess our sins, thereby recognizing our unworthiness to be disciples of Christ. Similarly, the Church must confess Her sins – the sins committed by Her members and supported by Her. The Church must offer reparation for these sins, and seek reconciliation. It is in this way that the Church, in Her members, will follow Christ, will indeed shine forth the life of Christ. It is by this that the ship will not sink, but be carried safely to the shores of eternal life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 St. Augustine, Questions of the Gospel 2, 2 quoted in M. F. Toal, D.D., The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume Three (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co.), p. 219.
 ibid., pp. 219-220.
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