24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B
Near the end of the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz,
Dorothy and her friends come before the Wizard
bearing the broom of the vanquished Wicked Witch of the West.
They demand that he keep his promise
to give them the things that they desire:
brains for the Scarecrow,
a heart for the Tinman,
courage for the Cowardly Lion,
and a one-way trip back to Kansas for Dorothy.
When the Wizard demurs
and insists that they come back another day,
they refuse to leave
until they receive what they were promised.
Dorothy tells him:
“If you were really great and powerful,
you’d keep your promises!”
Her dog Toto then pulls away the curtain
to reveal that the Wizard is in fact just a man,
one who struggles mightily to keep up his image
even as he is being exposed.
Dorothy castigates the Wizard:
“You’re a very bad man.”
The Wizard responds:
“No, my dear, I’m a very good man.
I’m just a very bad wizard.”
In the wake of his exposure and humiliation he uses gifts
—a diploma, a medal and a testimonial—
to awaken and affirm in the Scarecrow, Lion and Tinman
the brains, courage and heart
that they had within themselves all the time.
He also helps Dorothy to find her way home.
I wonder whether this may be a useful if imperfect metaphor
for what’s happening in the Roman Catholic Church today
as we continue to address the crisis of crimes and cover-ups
in various parts of the world
but especially here in the United States.
Like the Wizard,
the trappings of power and authority of abusive or negligent church leaders
have been stripped away and they have been exposed.
It may be easy or convenient
to simply dismiss them as bad men,
but the more complicated and uncomfortable truth
is that many of them have been good men
who nevertheless did or allowed some terrible things, even crimes.
That’s part of what it means to be a sinner.
As St. Paul noted well in Romans 7,
even when we know what is good, we don’t always do it.
We fail, and sometimes we fail terribly.
Many people within the Church and outside of it
are (again) demanding more complete accountability;
destruction of the cancer of clericalism;
the truth-telling that must accompany any meaningful reconciliation;
integrity from those who have professed to live chaste and celibate lives
for the sake of the kingdom; and
more opportunities for victims and survivors to tell their stories,
reclaim their lives, and receive some measure of justice;
They are calling forth the many gifts of the laity—especially women—
to create new systems of governance and accountability.
These are gifts
that lay women and men have possessed for years,
and it is past time that they be awakened and used
in a process of fundamental conversion and reform in the Church
that will take years if not decades.
Jesus tells us in our gospel reading
that his revelation as our Messiah
is not in the trappings of earthly power and glory
but rather in weakness, humiliation, rejection, suffering and death.
He tells all who would be his disciples:
“Whoever wishes to come after me
must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
We are in a painful, terrible and shameful chapter in the history of the Church.
But even the worst crisis is also an opportunity.
We have a choice.
This can be a moment of grace:
a time to turn anew to the God who is our help,
the God who is merciful and just;
and a time to demonstrate our faith by our works. +