“By their fruits you will know them” (Matt 7:16).
The late theologian Fr. Ivan Illich once observed that “the corruption of the best is the worst.” He was referring to the long history of damage done to the mystery of the church when the Gospel message of Jesus gets distorted.
His observation captures our own abhorrence for the clergy sex abuse crisis. Pedophilia is a pathology present in other groups and in the culture as a whole, but when a priest abuses a child it violates a sacred trust on which all sacramental ministry depends. Christ is present in the power of human touch – holding a child, anointing and embracing one another, the closeness of the shared meal, the laying on of hands, sexual intimacy in marriage. Anyone who enters the sacred web of relationships with the intent to abuse someone to satisfy his or her own needs is, in Jesus’ words, a "wolf in sheep’s clothing."
Because human beings are opaque, we can present ourselves by appearance before reality, style before substance. It takes a while before we know another’s true motives and agendas. But over time, if we are not duped by our own desires, we see through the surface to what another person is really like. “By their fruits you will know them,” Jesus said. Pay less attention to what someone says and more to what they do, and note the effects of their activity over time. A good tree will bear good fruit. A rotten tree will bear bad fruit. A sincere person builds up community. A manipulative or dishonest person will harm the community.
The Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart,” describes the sincerity and transparency of those who see and reflect God’s own holiness in the life of the community. To pray for this blessing is a key to Pope Francis’ call to live in the joy of the Gospel.