Saturday, April 24, 2010

Good Shepherd Sunday

Two of my favourite parishioners are Scots Presbyterians.

Well, since they are Presbyterians, it might be more accurate to call them “honourary parishioners.” One’s the husband of a long-time parishioner, while the other is the father of an active young adult in the parish.

The Presbyterian father actually says he’d become Catholic if we’d only bring back the Latin! I visited him when he was in the hospital recently and gave him a blessing—in Latin, of course.

One of the reasons why I enjoy the friendship of these two men so much is that Scots Presbyterians aren’t exactly famous for admiring Roman Catholics. We’ve come a long way together since the days of deep mutual distrust.

But that’s not to say that anti-Catholicism has disappeared. In fact, in recent days it has reemerged in public forms more vitriolic and offensive than anything we’ve seen since mobs attacked convents and churches in the U.S. and Britain in the 19th century.

Many recent newspaper stories about the Church are simply good journalism, exposing to the light things that needed to be known. As Peggy Noonan has written, the media has done the Church a big favour. But some of what has appeared in the papers is nothing more than old-fashioned hatred of the Church, and needs to be understood as such.

It’s a double tragedy when Catholics swallow anti-Catholic and anti-papal garbage simply because it’s published alongside painfully true stories that we cannot and should not deny.

God, however, works for good in all things. While many people will have their negative view of the Church confirmed by news reports, others recognize the hatred spewing from certain corners and will defend the Church.

This is a time when we find out who our friends are—and, more important, how fellow Christians and indeed some non-Christians, put what unites us ahead of what divides us.

This week a third Presbyterian friend—not a Scot, but a minister’s son—brought me joy that tempered the latest load of pain inflicted by the infidelity of some of my brothers in the priesthood.

He sent me an e-mail, in which he wrote “My heart has been breaking for you and all my Catholic friends during this latest beating.”

“There are Protestants praying for the Roman Catholics around the world. Certainly in North Vancouver.

He signed it “With gratitude and respect.”

And he called later in the week to apologize for taking so long to express his support. In his voicemail he said “There are so many people who are honoured to know Catholics like you and Catholics generally.” He called the attacks of militant Church-haters like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins “an absolute travesty.”

As if that wasn’t enough, my Presbyterian friend sent along a link to the blog of a well-known Canadian Christian songwriter and musician, Steve Bell. The blog posts an article titled “About a Catholic Priest and a Young Boy.” In it, Steve Bell tells the story of his youthful friendship with Father Bob MacDougall, a Jesuit priest who later became known for his appearances on the TV program 700 Huntley Street.

It’s a long story, remarkable mostly because of its timing. Steve Bell first acknowledges with great sensitivity that there are some awful stories that must be told so that justice may be served and healing take place.

“But among all the other stories that need to be told right now,” he wrote, “it feels important to tell this good story about a priest and a young boy.”

A good story it certainly is—one of friendship, support, and encouragement.

To sum it up, Steve Bell credits some of his considerable success as an artist to the fact that “a Catholic priest profoundly and appropriately cared about and invested in me during my youth and early adulthood.”

And he writes “I’m sure my story is not unique. The church has been marrying, burying, nurturing, and consoling souls for centuries. Her flaws do not constitute her any more than mine constitute me, and I bet yours don’t constitute you either. It’s terribly important we own up to and amend for our weaknesses. But it’s also important we don’t allow them to define us – mostly because in isolation, they are impotent to tell the whole truth.”

This is not your typical homily on Good Shepherd Sunday. But I share the thoughts of these wonderful Protestant friends as a reminder that God really does keep working, even in the roughest times—or maybe especially in the roughest times.

Equally, I share them as a reminder that the Good Shepherd never leaves his flock untended.

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