Calling Forth Holy Wisdom from the Laity
By Father Pete Iorio
Have you ever been told that you are you naughty? Long ago, if you were naughty, you had naught or nothing. It was a synonym for poor. Then it came to mean evil or immoral, and now naughty means that you are just badly behaved. Some words change meaning over time. Others are no longer used.
Wisdom is an important theme in Scripture. One definition for wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. In the first reading from the Book of Proverbs, we hear: Wisdom has built her house, and spread her table. Wisdom is personified and invites us to eat from a rich banquet that God provides. There is a perennial wisdom that comes from the Gospels themselves and from the teachings and actions of JC. So often as with many things (and the word “naughty” is an example), we’ve focused not on the original foundational wisdom but on the developed concept. That development can sometimes have the effect of not being essential or wise.
The main group of people Jesus used to have conflict with were religious leaders… the scribes and the Pharisees who used their knowledge not as wise guides but as privileged people of power. In Matthew 23:27, Jesus gives a strong condemnation: How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people’s bones and every kind of impurity.
Leaders in our Catholic Church today have forgotten or forsaken the wisdom of Jesus to always be on guard against power, possessions and privilege. As it is said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And look how terrible it has become for us with a church that tried to look beautiful on the outside and has been full of every kind of impurity. Woe to you, priests and bishops. As a member of the clergy, I make this fearless examination of conscience.
You have heard in the news, about the grand jury report, which summarized the findings of an 18-month investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by clergy in Pennsylvania, and revealed terrible acts carried out by priests of the Catholic Church abusing young and trusting children. Pennsylvania’s bishops were criticized because that abuse occurred over many years, and was in many instances facilitated, ignored, or covered up – a gross breach of trust with every innocent victim and with the faithful. It is shameful and painful especially for the victims of the abuse. We support them, including anyone here who needs healing and justice. Since the early days of my priesthood, I’ve assisted victims of abuse who have come to me. I believed the incredible stories they told me and helped them find healing and even justice if they wanted it. Since 2003, I have been on the Diocese of Knoxville review board for sexual misconduct and an advocate for victims and transparency in church matters. So this scandal is personally painful for me.
More wisdom from the letter to the Ephesians when he warns:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
In the Church’s 2000 year history, we’ve encountered crises. We also had strong men and women, lay people, like Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena who had the faith and courage and wisdom to bring about reform.
The laity have the responsibility, now more than ever, to serve the Church. This is not a problem we priests and bishops can solve on our own. Though most of us are good and holy men, the actions detailed in the grand jury report have damaged the reputations of all. We need your help and your insistence on accountability and high standards.
This parish is one of two in the nation that have received a Seal for Excellence putting into practice 55 standards for leadership, governance, accountability and transparency. I do not say this to brag, but to thank you the lay people of Saint Mary’s who have worked together offering your gifts that are so needed to be a healthy Body of Christ. I say this also to call forth from you holy wisdom to help our church in its time of need. The laity must step forward with prayer, energy, and resolve. We need the laity’s perspective, expertise, judgment, and prayer—and the pressure that comes from having been burned more than once as a church.
May Jesus the living bread from heaven in the Holy Eucharist give us the graces we all need to forsake foolishness that we may live and advance in the way of understanding God’s ways and of reform for Christ’s Church.
Calling Forth Holy Wisdom from the Laity