"Disastrously, a toxic sentimentality, in which both the call to repentance and the vision of judgment are obscured, has entered into the Church, and never more so than in the few decades following Vatican II, from the seventies to the mid-nineties," the cardinal reflected.
"There was a blurring of the clear lines of morality, and the creation of a distorted and highly subjective concept of conscience. It is no coincidence at all that this was the very period, we now clearly realize, in which most of the devastating incidents of priestly and episcopal abuse that are now in the news took place."
He said that policies to deal with abuse are "surely necessary," but added, "we surely do not need a policy to stop us from engaging in self-indulgent evil that leads to the Lake of Fire. All Christians, but especially bishops and priests, need to listen to and act on these simple words of Jesus: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near at hand."
"It is also true that when the moral and spiritual demands of Christianity, or of the priesthood, become no more than an ideal, much to be praised in honeyed words, but with no practical relevance, and held to be impossible to actually live, then individually and as a Church we have become gnostics," Cardinal Collins stated.
"But neither Christianity nor the priesthood is an abstract ideal; God does not play with us, holding out to us an ideal that it is impossible for us to live. By God's grace, and only by God's grace, every single one of us can actually become a saint. Vatican II spoke of the universal call to holiness, not the universal call to mediocrity. With a vision of the purifying refiner's fire to keep us honest, we are challenged every day to be happy, healthy, holy priests. Nothing less than that. That is the reality of the priesthood."
Collins emphasized the need for repentance, and suggested that priests recite quietly the "Jesus Prayer" during the elevation of the Host and Chalice at Mass, as well as frequently making use of the sacrament of confession.
"If we are to serve the Lord, and to invite others to do so, we must experience constant purification, and live in a spirit of repentance. Let the weeds and chaff within our hearts be thrown into the fire," he said.
Third, the fire of Pentecostal Zeal is a boldness granted to the apostles that inspired them to be "on fire" for the Gospel, which Collins said all disciples of Christ should be.
This zeal is different, Collins said, from how "lively" or "quiet" a seminarian or priest's personality might be, but rather, deep within, "profoundly committed to the life of holiness, that the fire will burn steadily and quietly throughout their priestly life."
"There are two times when a priest or bishop is horizontal in Church: face down at his ordination and face up at his funeral," Collins said. "In every moment between those two points, he must be on fire with sacrificial love and priestly zeal."
Finally, the fire of "Majesty and Mystery" is the spirit of the Burning Bush found in the Book of Exodus; a captivating and personal call that comes when a person experiences the presence of God, and ultimately discerns their "glorious" vocation.
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"Priests are not branch managers, and bishops are not CEOs," Collins warned. "Woe to those who think in those terms, or who think of a priestly or episcopal career. We are unworthy servants and messengers of the living God."
The priesthood is a tremendous privilege that most be treated with reverence, he said, and reminded the audience that the priesthood has always been and always will be "entrusted to frail and sinful men."
He noted that "the priesthood, not the priest … must be treated with reverence."
"Clericalism is not too high an estimation of the priesthood, but too low an estimation: it is using the holy priesthood to advance one's personal desires," the cardinal said. "If bishops or priests use their sacred office to dominate others, to take advantage of people's quite appropriate reverence for the priestly office, or to manipulate that reverence to satisfy the cleric's self-indulgent desires, then that is not simply evil; it is sacrilegious evil.
"Profound awareness of the majesty of the Lord who calls us must penetrate to the depths of our souls," Cardinal Collins said. "If it does not, then priesthood and episcopate can become worldly, and can be corrupted."