Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week was a difficult and painful week with the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and the continuing news coverage and ongoing revelations about the abuse of minors (and seminarians) at the hands of priests and the way such allegations were handled by those in authority. It is a tough time to be a priest and for any Catholic who publicly identifies him or herself as a practicing Catholic. Why would you be associated with a Church so full of scandal? Why do you stay Catholic or as a member of the Church? It is this very same question that Jesus poses to his disciples in today’s Gospel: “Do you also want to leave?” What Jesus said about himself in the Bread of Life discourse which we’ve been hearing over the last five Sundays was tremendously scandalous to his contemporaries. It was in many ways repulsive and offensive, hard to hear, shocking, and unacceptable. As a result of this revelation, many of his disciples no longer accompanied him. Today, we know that Jesus was teaching about his real presence in the Eucharist, but to his contemporaries, what he said made no sense. It didn’t seem possible. They couldn’t understand how it could be true. They didn’t misunderstand what he said, but what he said was “too much” for them to hear. So many went away. Jesus is unrelenting. He doesn’t back down or soft-pedal his speech when the crowd begins to murmur against him. It very much seems like Jesus is being intentionally provocative in what he is saying. Why? He wants to provoke a judgment in his disciples. What judgement? It is the judgment that leads to faith. Why are you following me? Is is because I multiplied loaves and gave you a free meal? Is it because I cured the sick or made the blind see? Is it because you understand and can figure out everything I say and do? Or is it because you recognized in me that the living God has come to dwell among you? Peter expresses the essence of faith in Jesus when he says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter doesn’t understand how it possible that Jesus could give them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, but what Peter is convinced of is that he cannot imagine his life without Jesus. His life wouldn’t make sense apart from that man. His heart belongs to Jesus, and he won’t let anything, especially the lack of his own understanding, separate him from that incomparable love that has changed his life – a fact that is undeniable. Unless we have had the same experience as Peter and have come to the same judgment as Peter in regards to the Church – that here is where I encounter the living God that gives me life, this scandal will be too much for us to take.
Last Friday, I joined my family on their vacation at the shore. I concelebrated Mass at the local parish, and in the sacristy the pastor had this “Letter to Father” framed on the vesting cabinet. In light of all that was happening, it was a helpful reminder of who I am and why I am a priest. I thought it worth sharing.
Please be a Priest. Don’t try to be “just one of us”. God has asked you to be different so that we may get a glimpse of Him through you. God has chosen you and given you divine powers to consecrate at Mass, Fr. Forlano