(This was the reflection I gave to my brother seminarians during our Benediction on August 16, 2009. After our Benediction, some of the brothers approached me and told me that my reflection inspired and somehow touched them. On my part, as I read my reflection over and over again before I delivered it, I can see nothing so special and so inspiring as these is often delivered by many preachers before. I even wanted to change my reflection had I have ample time. I’m just surprised to see my brothers’ reactions. It still shows God’s immense power when He decides to touch our hearts.)
In 1986, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart began on-screen attacks against fellow televangelists Marvin Gorman and Jim Bakker. He uncovered Gorman’s affair with a member of Gorman’s congregation, and also helped expose Bakker’s infidelity (which was arranged by a colleague while on an out-of-state trip). These exposures received widespread media coverage. Gorman retaliated in kind by hiring a private investigator to uncover Swaggart’s own adulterous indiscretions with a prostitute. Swaggart was subsequently forced to step down from his pulpit for a year and made a tearful televised apology in February 1988 to his congregation, saying “I have sinned against you, my Lord, and I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God’s forgiveness.”
Swaggart was caught again by California police five years later in 1991 with another prostitute, Rosemary Garcia, who was riding with him in his car when he was stopped for driving on the wrong side of the road. When asked why she was with Swaggart, she replied, “He asked me for sex. I mean, that’s why he stopped me. That’s what I do. I’m a prostitute.”
Ted Haggard was the Pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado and was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) from 2003 until November 2006. Haggard’s position allowed him occasional access to George W. Bush. In 2006 it was alleged that Haggard had been regularly visiting a male prostitute who also provided him with methamphetamine. Haggard admitted his wrongdoing and resigned as pastor of New Life church and as president of the NAE. The high-profile case was significant also because it immediately preceded the 2006 mid-term elections and may have even affected national voting patterns. In January 2009, Haggard admitted to a second homosexual relationship with a male church member, Brant Hass, on CNN-TV and other national media, and when asked, would not directly answer a question about his other possible homosexual relationships.
Earl Paulk (no relation to John Paulk) was the founder and head Pastor of Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur, Georgia from 1960 until the 1990s. A number of women from the congregation came forward during the 1990s claiming that Paulk had sexual relations with them. Some of these claims have subsequently been proven correct. Moreover, Donnie Earl Paulk, the current senior pastor of the church and nephew of Earl Paulk, had a court-ordered DNA test in 2007 which showed that he was Earl’s son, not his nephew, which means that Earl and his sister-in-law had had a sexual relationship which led to Donnie’s birth.
Brothers, we often heard and hurt about the many scandals and criticisms our evangelical brothers have hurled on us-they highlighted and made fun of the sexual scandals our priests have been involved in and altogether brand our Church as of Satan. The scandals of the evangelical pastors I’ve quoted above are strong evidence that committing mistake and falling into the pit of sin is not the monopoly of the Catholic Church. Of course, there are still lots of good priests and pastors out there but what made our Catholic priests and Evangelical pastors fall into sin could also be lurking within all of us. No exemption.
Now, why am I reading to you these shameful facts? It’s because our reading tonight tells us to live wisely.
“Watch carefully then how you live….Do not live in ignorance but understand or follow what is the will of the Lord.” Ephesians 5:15-20
As a seminarian, one thing I realized is that aside from myself, I am now carrying an extra baggage within me. As a seminarian, I am not only carrying my own reputation but the reputation of my beloved Church as well, so that in the eyes of the common people the reputation of my Church rises and falls along with my reputation as a seminarian. Call it cumbersome, call it unfair, but that’s how it is, more so it is not the kind of baggage forcefully imposed upon us but it is our own free choice as an answer to the calling that resounds in our hearts. So as someone who answers that calling, we should also live out a life that is fitting to one who is called.
Remember brothers, that the scandals the ministers committed not only caused resentment, anger, and hatred among the faithful, but worse than that it gave them pains and heartaches. If the people-who is the church is greatly hurt how much more Jesus? The Church is His mystical body; He died for it and He purchased it with His own blood.
It is very sad to hear someone comment that seminarians are drunkards, that we are no better than the people outside, and as I heard from a friend who was also a former OMI seminarian-that seminarians are lewd (disillusioned, he is now a Born Again Christian), and from us one can find people who curse and swear as it if is just an expression to be understood and tolerated rather than avoided. Deep within me, I resented these comments, as I am also a seminarian, and I know that they are just committing a fallacy of composition that what is true to the part is also true to the whole.
However, we should also reflect on this. Am I really a drunkard, or just a drinker, and for what? Do I find swearing and cursing easier to utter than Amen, Thank God and God bless you? Or do I find it mawkish and make my hairs to stand on end whenever I hear someone say Hallelujah or Praise the Lord? Why am I praying and doing good works inside the seminary, is it because it is required by my formators, or is it because of my realization that as a Christian, it should be my nature?
Brothers, we know the fact that we are not perfect, and that we are weak. However, it doesn’t mean that we are hopeless, for in things that we cannot do, there is someone who can do it for us-it’s Jesus. We don’t have to be perfect in order to follow Him, we just have to be open to His leading, coz even though our hearts is as black as a soot, He can still make it as white as a snow.
May the prayer of David in the book of Psalms also become our prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me…”
Brothers, I am an imperfect man sometimes given to my own weaknesses, but it only takes your example and my example, your encouragement and my encouragement for us to create a difference in each other’s lives. As Saint Paul says, “Brethren,encourage each other in the Lord.” God willing, may we become good Christians, good example to our brothers and good priests someday. AMEN.