Friday, June 24, 2011

Regarding "Celebrity" Priests, Michael Voris, and Tone of "Professional Catholics"

My thoughts have been focused on the situation with Fr. Corapi. It's difficult to think of him as simply "John Corapi," although I know that is what he is to be called, now that he left the priesthood.

This development is something I never thought I'd witness within the Catholic Church. Believe me, I've seen plenty of Christian "celebrity" ministers fall as a result of sexual sin -- everything from inappropriate touching to full-blown affairs to cavorting with male prostitutes. It's never pretty and always devastating to the minister's followers.

Michael Voris from Real Catholic TV had an excellent admonition to all of us: Watch the tone when weighing in on the Corapi story.

I was grateful when I saw this video. Grateful, because too often those who usually exercise caution and wisdom are suddenly bewildered by such events and quickly rush to point fingers. The fact is, no one knows exactly what has transpired behind the scenes regarding Fr. Corapi, his accuser, and certain key players in the Church. No one has walked in this man's shoes except Fr. Corapi himself.

So you have those who are his followers who are upset, those who really don't like him but are now trying to act like judge and jury, and finally those who really don't care for "celebrity" pastors.

Serving the Church is one of the most difficult jobs around. Priests especially are called into a sacrificial lifestyle, and now I am looking at their life as a wider expression of our Savior's life. You cannot call anywhere your home. Your time is not your own. You have few belongings. You are expected to respond to requests that occur at the most inconvenient times. But again, a priest understands that he took vows to do this very thing -- to be in persona Christi for the faithful.

With the non-denominational churches, the same dynamic exists except without the Sacraments. I remember talking to a man who shared that when growing up, his pastor father never took the family on a vacation in 17 years. I couldn't even imagine what that would be like, blessed to have a father who took our family on annual vacations all over the place.

Here's the thing: when you have a teaching gift, people hunger for your words. Yes, the Holy Spirit inspires the one with this gift to speak the truth, but the words are coming out of someone's mouth. And that "someone" is pursued by a multitude. Think of Jesus' reputation as He journeyed from town to town. Once it is discovered that someone has a powerful gift for preaching and teaching, believe me, crowds will come.

Fr. Corapi has such a gift. It isn't something he asked for. It is something that was given to him by God and he was called into service. It is a blessing for the Church overall that he was obedient. But I'm sure he realized the truth about this particular gift. Personally, I think it is one of the heavier burdens to carry. And here's why:

The person who has the gift of teaching cannot rest, deciding to do something else like work in a soup kitchen. The gift burns in his heart like a fire. He digs deep into scripture reading and prayer as he seeks God. The revelations he receives as a result of this constant study is the fruit that is given to audiences who seek truth and encouragement.

It is a beautiful gift and when it flows from heaven, it can provide miracles. As Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." We all know the feeling we get when someone says a word of encouragement to us that comes at the perfect moment. We feel as though God has stepped into our lives to let us know we're not alone, that He is present and sending us His love.

But as much as people crave to hear someone who has this gift, they also fear it. Many fear the power it can bring. Some are jealous of the attention it gives to the teacher. And some mistakenly believe that if only they can win the approval of a minister with a teaching gift, then his gifting may be imparted to them.

The teaching gift is a very "out there" gift that overall, attracts a lot of attention.

So, on one hand you have people clamoring for a gifted teacher, but then when that very teacher runs into trouble, they abandon him.

Much like the disciples abandoned Jesus Christ.

I'm not comparing Fr. Corapi to Christ, per se, just pointing out the patterns I've noticed over the years as I've observed ministries rise and fall. What is hurtful to me is not so much what Fr. Corapi decided to do, but how those who see themselves as faithful Catholics are acting. I think there is such little understanding and compassion because few Catholics know the pressure that someone like Fr. Corapi was under for most of the last twenty years of his life.

Christians have a tendency to place their leaders on pedestals. And then when one of them makes a mistake, there is an outcry. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot build someone up as being perfect and then outraged when that person proves that they are not. No one is perfect. We are all sinners. And each one of us are trying to find our way home to be with our Holy Family.

Fr. Corapi needs our love and compassion during this incredibly difficult time in his life. God knows the situation and as far as I'm concerned, is the only one who can rightly judge it. We can take lessons learned from this experience and apply it to future gifted teachers. Maybe we can learn to appreciate the gift without idolizing the giver. Maybe we can learn to cut someone some slack when the expectations we have of him fall short of our desires.

I remember one of the conferences we had at my former non-denominational ministry. The ministers who were asked to speak had incredible pressure to deliver powerful teachings. Imagine standing in front of thousands of people, who are there to hear what you have to say, and who have been following you for the past decade or so, buying your books, your tapes; and now are there beaming at you, filled with great expectation that you're going to be like Moses coming down from the mountain with a divine revelation.

What would you do? How would you act? What emotions would go through your mind as you stood before those people?

Most likely, you'd be praying your heart out.

Those who are called into such a ministry actually experience a "dying to self" every time they get up to speak. Imagine it: if they speak and it's a "dud," those who follow them will chatter about the mediocrity of the teaching. But if their teaching rocks the socks off the crowd, they'll be metaphorically hoisted upon their shoulders as countless faces rush up to tell the teacher how "anointed" he is and how "blessed" they are because of him.

It's a dangerous mixture of embarrassment and pride for the teacher. And it goes on, and on, and on.

The speakers at the conferences I served at had a remedy for all of that. They didn't talk much to the attendees.

There was a special room for the speakers where they could hang out, because if they even dared to spend ten minutes in the main halls of the conference venue, they'd be overrun in seconds by needy people. People who wanted to be prayed for, people who had stories to tell, people who wanted to ask for a job within their ministry.

A few of the teachers I saw behind the scenes were actually depressed. The demands and expectations of crowds of people would weary them. It was another reason why they needed that private space so they could rest. Again, as Jesus had to remove Himself from the crowds to have communion with His Father, so too, do spiritually gifted teachers need to spend time alone to be restored.

All I ask is that some who have quickly judged what has happened with Fr. Corapi, have a bit of mercy. A gifted teacher's life is far more difficult than you can imagine. I think the devil especially hates such a gift because God uses it to convey His truth. Knock down the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.

Please continue to keep the situation in prayer and ask all the angels and saints that God's truth will prevail. I have hope that it will. It's just that I also am praying for the least amount of collateral damage, as possible. Mercy, oh God.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. World without end, amen.


Shirley said...

Great post. To be such a public figure I'm sure has been as much a burden as a blessing. We are blessed, Fr. Corapi is burdened. I'm thankful for all the teaching he has imparted to us, and was one of the "crowd" who met him and asked him for a blessing. Today we prayed the Storm Novena for him and for the Church.

Lola said...

I'm still praying.

This has been painful and I hope in a few months or years, we'll look back at this time with some gratitude.

Like the little boy in the room of manure, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere."

Thank you for posting a sweet and honest entry about Fr. Corapi.

Something good's gotta come out of this horrible situation.