If Jesus were standing on the other side of the room and there were 100 people standing between you and him, would you let anyone of those people stop you from running toward him and embracing him?
I would guess your answer to that question would be No.
In this weeks readings, in the book of Hebrews, which sets into place the understanding of Jesus as high priest, the author states:
“Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness…”
For many, including myself, have found a priest, a clergy member or a pastor as a flawed, sometimes ignorant, often erring human beset by weakness standing between us and Jesus. Over my life I realized it is up to me to not allow them to get in my way of my faith and I have been able to separate the people who make up the church with that faith in Jesus Christ.
As a Catholic, there have been numerous occasions in my life where actions of priests could have interfered with my faith. The priest who confirmed me left the priesthood and got married. Another priest who was involved heavily with our youth group ended up being an alcoholic and went into rehab. The priest that married my wife and I is no longer a priest.
And, of course, those horrid events of child abuse that littered our faith but, fortunately, never entered my life personally.
However, my faith is in Jesus Christ, not Father (enter name here).
As a Catholic, I rely on their role as priest to receive the sacraments. And, as a Catholic, the most holy is that of the Eucharist, where we believe that Jesus is actually present, body and blood, at every Mass. As fulfillment from God in Passover to Jesus on the Cross and then the Holy Spirit during Mass, that living sacrifice, to me, is Jesus literally standing on the other side of the room and no one is going to get in my way of running to embrace him in that sacrament.
Non-Catholic Christians, I’m sure, have dealt with the same struggles of pastors gone astray, of church leaders being less than Christian. One only need to look at the headlines over the past 20 years to see pastors having succumb to lust or greed or adultery. There failures, though disappointing, are not entirely unexpected. It is the nature of human imperfection trying to encapsulate the purity of Jesus Christ. As you and I struggle and often fail in our attempts to be holy, so will our church leaders for they face the same sins that we do.
Fortunately, Jesus Christ is not bound by human imperfection. The Holy Spirit is able to work through us despite our own flaws. As many times I’ve had priests fail me, I’ve also had priests inspire me, like Father John LaTondress who used humor to reach me in high school, Father John Oliver who guided me through college, Father Michael Morris, whose homilies were truly inspired by the flame of the Holy Spirit, and Father Robert Cadrecha who exuded love and humor and tenderness.
No matter your denomination, remember that our church leaders are “beset by weakness” and will make mistakes. Because of their role as shepherds in our spiritual lives they need our prayers, our forgiveness, our support and our understanding. As shepherds they will be targets of Satan in an attempt to scatter the flock. Don’t let Satan win that battle. If your shepherd falls, lift him up with prayer.
And, whatever you do, don’t let anything or anyone get between you and salvation in Jesus Christ.