Last week I wrote about my childhood love for the figure of the kindly and wise priest Eli in the Old Testament and my confusion over the story of Eli and his sons in the first part of 1 Samuel. Why did God punish kindly Eli for the actions of his bad sons? And why did all of the Israelites suffer and feel abandoned by God because of these two corrupt priests? Eli’s sons used their position as priests. They committed what we call today “liturgical abuse.” This is where a priest changes the liturgy for his own personal reasons, or even for what he calls 'pastoral reasons,' because it suits him or others better that way. Liturgical abuse means that instead of worshipping God the way God asks and offering to the people the liturgy as God wishes us to receive it, we get it as a human man would prefer it to be. This is a grave sin. Priests are to be custodians of the liturgy, servants of the Divine Worship, not makers of it.
Eli's sons did more than this, however, the text says that they also used their position in order to sexually exploit people!
Eli was the head priest, the one who is in charge of making sure everything went as it should at the temple where he served. He failed to stop his sons from abusing the liturgy and abusing the people. The text says that he talked to them, but not that he ever imposed sanctions on them, removed them as priests, or even denounced them publicly. As a result, the whole people of Israel were scandalized, and as evidenced by the surrounding text, fell away from true worship. After all, if priests can get away with this, then it must be okay, right? Israel's view of God, His perfection, and each person's moral responsibility before Him was slipping away. For this, Eli, who is responsible for leading God's flock, was punished. The whole people of Israel experienced a great chastisement and desolation for many years - losing the Arc of the Covenant!
If this is all starting to sound very familiar, it should! We live in times where for the last 40 years, priests have taken great liberties with the Holy Liturgy and with the Holy Eucharist. We all know of the terrible, horrendous, sexual abuse that has happened. We also see the ineffectiveness of the bishops in their defense of our Holy Religion and of victims (children and adults) of sexual predators. And all of us have suffered and are suffering as a result. And has the Church ever been so discredited in the eyes of the world?
How do you and I fit into this? What is our role?
We should take extra care to be devout and reverent with the Holy Mysteries God has given to the Church, particularly the Holy Eucharist. Our Lady assured us in Fatima that if we pray fervently and devotedly, if we frequently go to Confession and receive the Sacraments, our prayers can make a difference even on the worldwide scale. Loving devotion and reverence conscientiously carried out in our everyday lives can make a difference in all of these things. Especially in regards to when we meet Jesus Himself in the Holy Eucharist.
Let us entrust ourselves to God by living reverently and devotedly in our parishes, in our homes, in our lives.
May God bless you and make you a saint!