As I write this column, news is breaking of a shocking list of grave accusations leveled against a well-known priest by his superiors. The Catholic blogosphere is abuzz with people expressing their dismay, outrage, sadness and, in some cases, denial. How can it be, many are asking, that a man of God blessed with such abilities could be involved in sins of fornication and greed?
On one hand, I fully agree this is a sad and painful situation demanding prayer and requiring some thoughtful reflection. However, I’m rather surprised so many Catholics are shocked by the fall of a man who preached the word of God to tens of thousands.
I’ll give just two reasons why this shouldn’t shock us: first, Solomon; secondly, the rest of humanity. Put another way, if there is one group of people who should not be surprised at the devious and sinful ways of humanity, it is Catholics.
Today’s reading from 1 Kings describes the youthful Solomon being told by God, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” It was an intriguing test because Solomon had plenty of material comforts; his father, King David, had united Judah and Israel, and the newly formed kingdom was just entering its short but glorious golden age (c. 970-930 B.C.). What did Solomon lack? Despite his youth — and perhaps due to witnessing the constant turmoil in his father’s life — Solomon asked for an “understanding heart” so that he could fairly judge God’s people and “distinguish right from wrong.” Notice that Solomon spoke of the people as belonging to God; it reveals how humility and wisdom go hand in hand, a truth emphasized throughout the Wisdom literature.
God gifted Solomon with wisdom and understanding, and things were wonderful — for a while. But Solomon came to love “foreign women” (1 Kgs 11:1), who brought with them foreign, false gods. And “when Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the Lord, his God” (1 Kgs 11:4). The heart was not simply seen as the seat of emotions, but the very core of a man’s intellectual, moral and spiritual life. Solomon’s sins surely involved passion, but worse, they involved a rejection of God’s ways and wisdom.
Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven as being like “a treasure buried in a field.” The very nature of the kingdom is an invaluable gift drawing man into communion with God. This is possible only through the King, as St. Irenaeus described so well in the second century: “If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field, that is, in this world” (“Against Heresies,” 4.26.1).
Christ’s sacrificial gift of his life upon the cross opens up the possibility of what St. Paul described in today’s epistle: conformity to the Son, justification through the Holy Spirit and glorification with the Father. So, the treasure is to share by grace in the Son’s own life. This is the Trinitarian life, which is the ultimate answer to the question at the core of each human heart: “What would I ask of God if I could have anything?”
Sadly, treasure can be lost, ignored or ill-treated. We can spurn it for false gods. So we must trust the King and invest everything — heart, mind, body, soul — in his kingdom.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.