Last week the Church celebrated the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and later this month, on June 24th, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. This time of year, as the Church celebrates these liturgies I am reminded of one of the most excellent homilies I had the pleasure of hearing just four years ago. On the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist I was fortunate enough to hear Fr. John Corapi preach as he said Mass not in some large arena or auditorium but rather in my own parish, St. Charles Borromeo in Whitefish, Montana. He wasn’t in town to preach a mission or give a talk. He was simply saying Mass at our local parish, at the invitation of our pastor, as our pastor was out of town for a few days.
During his homily he referred back to the gospel passage that recounts the Visitation and proceeded to give a beautiful, moving and powerful (as only Fr. Corapi could do) pro-life homily. It was a typical weekday Mass like those celebrated in thousands of parishes around the world every day. No cameras were rolling and no marketable products would be produced for sale. But I, and the couple hundred others who heard him preach and say Mass that Wednesday, received a wonderful gift.
Much has changed since that day though even more has remained unchanged. One thing I have come to appreciate far more is the absolute necessity of praying for our bishops and priests. They are under attack and in desperate need of our fervent prayers and vigorous support.
Not long after my wife and I moved to Montana we had the opportunity to get to know Fr. Corapi and over the years we were fortunate to share meals and good conversation with him on a few occasions. What struck me about him at the time was his shy, quiet and unassuming manner that stood in such stark contrast to his style and demeanor I witnessed when I watch his taped talks. In person he was a bit different than the Fr. Corapi I’d seen on television. Nevertheless, the message was the same. He preached the gospel unwaveringly and professed a great love for Christ and His Church.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say I was one of his close friends but I did come to know him, see firsthand his generosity and appreciate the unique gift his priestly ministry provided to Catholics (and non-Catholics). Even just two short years ago my wife and I were blessed to celebrate Easter and his birthday with him just before all hell broke loose.
I am aware of some of the events that transpired when things seemed to fall apart for Fr. Corapi and there is much more that I do not know. During those days it seemed like the Catholic media and blogs were spilling over daily with reports and wild speculation. Some of what was reported was no doubt true but it certainly seemed to me we were witnessing a sort of Catholic tabloid frenzy where the line between fact and irresponsible speculation was blurred. I believe very few do have all of the relevant facts.
I think it’s safe to say something went terribly wrong and many suffered as a result as tends to happen when human weakness and sin seems to prevail for a time and those we’ve admired fall from the pedestal upon which we have elevated them. Thankfully, we are able by God’s grace to endure in faith as we anchor our lives to Him secured firmly to His Church. Most of those I know who looked up to Fr. Corapi as an inspiration and confirming voice have remained close to the Church and seemingly grown in faith, understanding well that it is God alone we worship not those he has sent to draw us closer to Himself.
We know priests are people too and subject to human weakness and temptation. I tend to think that our priests and bishops are uniquely targeted by Satan in order to erode proper reverence for the ordained ministry, tear down the Church and strike at the very source of sacramental grace. There is a lengthy list of priests and bishops who have wavered and fallen throughout the Church’s history. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the “presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weakness, the spirit of domination, error, even sin” (CCC, 1550). This truth should not so much cause us to embrace a suspicious stance when it comes to our priests and bishops (though at times that might be proper and prudent) as much as it should compel us to provide ALL of them our support. I think most of us know this to be true but we need to be reminded frequently lest we neglect our duty and fail to build up our priests and cherish the great gift God has provided to us in the ordained priesthood.
Within the communion of saints, God has invested certain men with power and authority in service to the Church. Fr. Corapi is one of them. God no doubt provides these men with all the grace necessary to faithfully live out their vocations as ordained priests and bishops. However, we also must understand and appreciate the role we play in bringing God’s grace to them. Consider the story of Israel’s battle with Amalek recounted in Exodus 17:6-16 when Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ raised hands in order that the Israelites claim victory over the Amalekites. We have to ask ourselves how well we are “supporting the hands” of our priests. Do we pray for our priests at least daily? Do we befriend our priests and include them not only in our prayers but in our lives? Do we refrain from burdening them with petty matters and disputes which draw them away from the serious spiritual care of their flocks?
I can’t help but think that the Church is a bit poorer absent Fr. Corapi’s prophetic voice. His was a style and tone that understandably did not appeal to all but certainly struck a chord with many. He played a significant role in the conversion and reversion of many as he helped draw many into the Catholic Church. Even as he was engaged in his struggles he insisted that the fullness of the faith was to be found in the Catholic Church. I haven’t seen Fr. Corapi since he morphed into the “Black Sheep Dog” two years ago but I pray he is well and hope he perseveres in faith. I pray not so much in the hope that he returns to his former ministry but because I desire for him what I desire for myself and for all persons—that when he dies the Lord grants him eternal life.
Please join me in praying for Fr. Corapi and all of our priests. They are depending on us.
© 2013. Matthew Brower. All Rights Reserved.