Sunday, May 06, 2018

The weight of a priest's examen: How will I be judged by history, by God?

Fr. Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, April 22, 2018)

Recently I watched a video about the Stalin years in the Soviet Union. It was concerned with the 'other' interest of my life, music. The backdrop to the story is that during the height of the Communist era everything was under the control of the central government which, in turn, meant under Joseph Stalin. In terms of music, there was a Soviet Composer's Union which promoted patriotic, that is, Soviet, themes of national pride, (forced) happiness, and (feigned) comradery among the peoples of the USSR. Along with this artificially induced patriotism there was a suppression of any music which was deemed modernistic or, in the language of the day, formalistic. By this means of name-labeling, certain composers of modern music were held in check by Soviet controls. The man Stalin appointed to head this union of composers was the subject of the DVD I saw. In the historical footage he was shown at the height of his power delivering inflated fustian (pompous talking) about the high ideals of Soviet nationalistic music with condemnation of types of music that were being performed in those decadent western countries (such as the USA). At the time of the making of the DVD, the Soviet empire had collapsed and this same man who had once been Stalin's appointee was being interviewed. It was a sad spectacle, in some ways. Now that the great Enemy (Communism) had been defeated, what was one to say for having stood by, complicit in the oppressive Soviet system, an accomplice in fact of the brutal Stalinist regime? Thus was the man interviewed in the post-Soviet era.

This DVD affected me greatly, not only because of the musical interest I had in it but also because of the significance it holds for me as a priest in those disturbing times. What will history say about us, and about me specifically, when at some future time the Church will have settled down (God grant it!) and there will be a return to orthodoxy and sanity in the Church? I imagine an interviewer questioning me about what I was doing and not doing during those years (the present time) and why I had not been more outspoken about abuses in the Church, about the failure of the hierarchy to defend Christ's truth and their contentment to be silent bystanders as corruption rotted away the faith and morals of the Catholic faithful. "How come you, Father Perrone, did not come out and speak more forcefully against the tidal wave of corruption?" This is the question I imagine being posed to me in some future time. The dilemma for me now, as it was for many in the Communist era, is whether it is prudent to be vocal in condemnation or in working in more subtle, behind-the-scenes ways. Prudence is needed to know how much to say at a given time and when to say it. Should, for example, I have spoken out any more forthrightly against things such as contraception, gay 'marriage,' or the troubling messages purportedly made by Pope Francis? Have I been wimpy? Certainly, at the moment many priests and bishops in our country have been anywhere from timid to cooperative in the evil things taking place in our day. What then will happen when this era will have passed and history will pass its judgment upon them? While I wonder about this I am particularly disturbed about what will be leveled against me for not having been a more outstanding critic and defender of truth.

I know of priests who have stood apart and been bold to challenge the mediocrity of our leadership. They have suffered the consequences of their valor. But in the end, and especially in view of the Last Judgment, I wonder how will I stand against accusations of my moderation or my cowardice. Will I be deemed a betrayer of moral and religious truth? Do I need to be more clear or forceful to make my parishioners comprehend doctrinal truth and to practice Catholic living? Or am I failing them by my weakness?

It's always difficult to assess oneself in the present moment, to know that one is pursuing the right path. If I were to deliver a weekly diatribe against the evils of our time in the world and in the Church, would I have been acting rightly? Or are my people already in the know and I only need to be subtly nuanced in condemning errors and the deceptions that cause many to err? I recall Saint John Paul II's first address to the world after his election: "Do not be afraid!"

This reflection of mine also concerns you as parents, citizens of this country, and members of the Catholic Church. How much must you be a vocal "witness"? If you speak up imprudently you may do more harm than good. If you fail to act at all you may be betraying Christ. This is the dilemma.

God's mercy is for this life. When we will finally appear before God's judgment seat, we should expect only justice, what is neither too lenient nor too severe. Each will get exactly what is his due, not more or less, according to what he has done or failed to do.

Wile we have time in this life let us do as much good as we can and repair for our evils. And let us not fear to help our relatives and neighbours to do the same. Much is expected of us.

Fr. Perrone

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