Thursday, December 07, 2017

Give us Barabbas!

A few months ago I had the pleasure of hearing the California Bach Society perform Bach's magnificent St. Matthew Passion. Midway in that three-hour masterpiece comes the moment when Pilate, desperate to appease the bloodthirsty mob, tries to get them to let him save Jesus as the one condemned criminal he pardons each year at Passover-time. Hoping to skew the results, he sets up a choice that he thinks is a slam-dunk: it's got to be either the inconvenient but blameless Jesus, he declares, or the scum-of-the-earth armed robber and murderer Barabbas.

To his utter astonishment, the crowd chooses life for the guilty, and death for the innocent.

I hear an echo of the Jerusalem crowd's choice in the present intense clamor to abolish the death penalty in California, especially among certain professional Catholics here. Give us the convicted serial murderer, they shout; but when our Pilate-equivalent asks what is to be done with the inconvenient but innocent baby in the womb, they clamor for his death. Let him be crucified!

The final effect of this moral collapse in California is yet to play out. We probably should remember, though, that the Jerusalem mob also cried out His blood be upon us and upon our children! At least they understood that if they were wrong, there would and should be dreadful consequences. There's a certain defiant honesty in that which leaves them with just the barest shred of honor.

Of course, they didn't really think anything would happen to them. They went back to their homes and workshops, taverns and brothels. They quickly forgot the inconvenient but innocent itinerant preacher from Nazareth, and what they had done to him.

Nothing happened for forty years or so. Then the Romans razed Jerusalem, massacred most of its people, and sold the remnant into slavery.

Defending the Faith when the clergy won't

Most faithful Catholics have encountered priests and bishops who either won't defend Catholic doctrine and practice, or who disagree with it themselves and argue against it. What's to be done about it?

Many appear to argue that because priests and bishops are consecrated men holding positions that deserve respect, it's therefore wrong to point out ways they aren't doing their jobs right -- preaching incorrect or incomplete doctrine from the pulpit, substituting their own words for the words of the Liturgy, taking public stands that run counter to Church teaching, failing to speak up when popular culture announces its almost-daily new attack on the truth.

I disagree with that attitude. Laity surely have to avoid being genuinely disrespectful to the clergy's positions and legitimate functions, yes. Heck it's because we respect those functions that we're bothered when they don't do them! When men in such positions act unworthily, they must be countered, corrected if possible, or pushed out if correction fails.

Priests are there to be good shepherds of their flocks. If a cowardly shepherd hides behind a rock when the wolves show up, the sheep who haven't gotten eaten (this time, that is) have a right to complain to the boss shepherd and expect him at least to chastise the coward, or remove him and put another, better shepherd in his place. If a perverted shepherd is actually in cahoots with the wolves because he's acquired a taste for rack of lamb, all the more do the sheep have a right to bleat out their justified outrage.

If the clerical sex-abuse scandal told us laity anything, surely it told us not to trust that everything's being taken care of.