Friday, March 25, 2011

The Accused and the Fallen: The wounds of the Church and what we can learn from them II

Please scroll down for the first of two posts on The Accused and the Fallen: The wounds of the Church and what we can learn from them.

A friend of St. Padre Pio was distressed over a woman who- once having a strong devotion to Christ -could have tragically backslid in her Christian life. He asked how this could possibly happen. St. Pio wrote back with an explanation. Here is an excerpt of it:

"The Enemy, who is always alert, seeing such affection, convinced her that such great confidence and certainty could never decline...Furthermore, he put into heart a clear vision of the heavenly prize, so that it seemed impossible for her to renounce so great a felicity for things so base and vile as earthly pleasures. The devil used this immoderate confidence to make her lose that holy distrust in herself, a diffidence that must never leave the soul, no matter how privileged it is by God." (C. Bernard Ruffin, Padre Pio: The True Story)

The Accused and the Fallen continued-

It seems a lot of these scandals arise from occasions when a priest counsels a distressed woman. Given enough times, spending time alone with each other would naturally lead to feelings of attachment on both sides. Priests, I am afraid, are not trained with the spiritual discipline the Saints of old would exercise towards the opposite sex. In fact, there are some proponents of the Theology of the Body who have implied, if not said directly, that averting one’s eyes from a beautiful woman or using repressive measures towards sexual attraction is prudish; and that prudishness is a sin.

I’ll never forget a priest who- in the TOB tradition –presided over a retreat for men. The theme, a rather provocative one, was the female anatomy. That’s right. Men were to experience God by focusing on the female body for one or two days. There is a case to made- and JPII made it very well –that the human body is sacred; and as such, it reveals something about God. Equally true, however, is that the concupiscence of our flesh (the tendency towards sexual sin) is an urge to be reckoned with. Unlike Adam and Eve before Original Sin, our sanctification can tame but never extinguish this urge. We do not live in the Garden of Eden. Hence, in an effort to affirm the beauty of human sexuality, we can never let down our guard against the seduction of sexual sin. And as holy as the human body is- female or male -we would do well to keep our clothes on.

In Romans 7, St. Paul bears witness to the tension between the body and soul: “So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Although we take delight in the law of God, we must remember that evil is at hand. And it is not just the desires of the flesh, but also worldly desires which wage war against the soul. St. Peter admonishes his flock to “keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.” In order that the soul may come out the victor, repeated acts of self denial and frequent mediations of Christ’s Passion are necessary. It is only through this struggle against self that the purity of God’s innocence prevails. There is a price to be paid but the peace it brings is incalculable.

This ongoing war between the flesh and the spirit must not only inform our spiritual practices but our work. Whether it be a married man or a priest, interactions and ministry with women should be governed with a saintly distrust of oneself. If it means counseling the opposite sex behind a confessional screen (in the case of priest) or having a third party present, such precautions should be considered.

As for Fr. John Corapi, I do not know what kind of associations he had with women. If he did have female companionships in his preaching ministry, I am confident he is rethinking that policy. In any case, it is my prayer and hope that he will be vindicated. What is just as important, however, is knowing that we as Catholics can never put too much confidence in any one priest or person- not even ourselves. The only trust that can never disappoint- the only one -is the trust that is firmly anchored in Jesus Christ. He is our Rock!