So, umm, Father Corapi. Yeah. Wow.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the situation, here’s a summary. Long story short, the ministry of the great Fr. John Corapi as we know it has come to an end. He says he will continue to serve under the name “The Black Sheepdog” for now, and of course there’s always the possibility that he could one day return to his role as a priest in good standing with his religious society (as unlikely as that may seem at this point, nothing is impossible with God!) But I think it’s safe to say things won’t ever be the way they were again. The golden age of his priestly evangelization has likely passed.
It’s hard to overstate what an impact this has had on those of us who were heavily influenced by his preaching. When I think back on my initial conversion from atheism to Catholicism, Fr. Corapi is there at almost every turn. Shortly after I made the intellectual decision to become Catholic, I faced a serious medical diagnosis which I was told meant that I absolutely had to use artificial contraception. I was thrown into a battle I wasn’t prepared to fight, forced to stand up for principles I had only barely come to understand. I had to go to countless doctor appointments where I was looked at as crazy, backwards, or (worst of all) a religious fundamentalist nut — which was especially painful since my ego had been wrapped up in my identity as an atheist my whole life. And yet when I think back on that time, one of my strongest memories is a pleasant one: driving in my car, listening to the voice of Fr. John Corapi.
My appointments tended to coincide with Relevant Radio’s broadcast of his sermons, and I recall how my body would physically relax when I heard the first hopeful, soothing notes of the French horn piece that introduced his show. All my frantic worrying and confusion would fade away as I listened to his words, imminently reasonable, strong and unapologetic, as he explained each aspect of Catholic teaching. It was during one of those balmy summer mornings in the car, with Fr. Corapi’s words drifting out of the speaker, that I felt the overwhelming peace of knowing that I had found truth, and that my life was about change forever.
My husband and I entered the Church, the months went on, and, naturally, things were sometimes difficult. After an outpouring of great consolation after I first began to receive Communion, I faced my first spiritual dry spell. I was let down by fellow Catholics. I had the unsettling experience of spiritual attack. Through it all, Fr. Corapi was there. His face would be on my television, occasionally obscured by stacks of laundry or a gaggle of toddlers, or his voice on the radio, each time guiding me away from irrelevant distractions and toward the only thing that matters — the truth of Jesus Christ.
Much of what I know about Christianity I originally learned through Fr. Corapi. I’ve since expanded my knowledge from many other sources, but his way of distilling complicated, vague, and/or controversial ideas into crystal clear messages allowed me to quickly understand concepts that otherwise would have been daunting. And I know I’m not alone — countless people cite him as a key influence in their decisions to convert or “revert” to orthodox Catholicism. His body of work is priceless. If you were to create a pie chart of “modern speakers who explain the true Catholic faith in a clear and palatable way, ” the portion with his name on it would take up a sizable chunk.
And so this turn of events is upsetting to the thousands of us who were led home, at least in part, by this particular shepherd. As I thought about it and followed the commentary all weekend, I felt distress at the news. But I also sensed something else, something surprising, something good:
The truth that Fr. Corapi led me and so many others to did not originate with him, or from any man. The Catholic Church isn’t a bunch of guys who sit around and come up with brilliant insights about Jesus; its doctrines don’t come from the pope, the bishops, the priests, Fr. Corapi, or anyone else — they come from God himself. The men who make up the Magisterium are simply the tools God uses to convey his message.
I don’t know if I had ever fully appreciated what a gift this system is until now. It’s ironic that the Church is sometimes accused of making its followers “go through people to get to God.” In fact, it’s the one religious institution that is entirely set up so that nobody is beholden to another human being to know God’s truths. When people have questions about the correct interpretation of something in the Bible, or want to know what the Christian answer is to a brand new ethical dilemma the world has never seen before — even if they’re illiterate and can’t read the Bible at all — they can find everything God has chosen to reveal to us in the body of wisdom of the Church that Jesus founded and continues to guide to this day. They don’t have to depend on anyone’s personal opinions; by looking at the Church’s Magisterial teaching, they can go straight to God.
As the news continues to break about the situation and the blog posts continue to pile up one after another, I feel free. Because the truths that Fr. Corapi led me to are separate from Fr. Corapi himself, I’m freed of the need to know whether the accusations against him are true or false. I’m freed of the need to speculate about all the how‘s and why‘s and what if‘s behind all the decisions that have been made by the various parties in this situation. I’m free simply to pray for him, for everyone else involved, and to leave it at that.
An analogy I keep thinking of is that of the great photographer Ansel Adams. On a much smaller scale, he was also a big influence in my life. His breathtaking black and white images of the Grand Tetons and other mountain ranges awakened me to the grandeur of nature, and stirred something within me that had never been there before. Though I wouldn’t have thought of it this way at the time, the moments I spent gazing at his photos were some of my first experiences of God. If Adams had ever been involved in a professional or personal situation I found unsettling, I would have been similarly free not to let it trouble me, other than out of concern for him as a person. Because while he had an incredible talent for conveying the majesty of the mountains, he did not create them. Though the way he captured them led me to a startling awakening to their beauty, it was not he who made them beautiful.
And so it is with Fr. Corapi. No matter what happens, I will always respect his talent for capturing the truth, and will eternally owe him a debt of gratitude for highlighting its beauty so well. I will think back fondly of those days when his voice guided me during those drives to my doctor appointments, when his televised image was a natural part of our family living room. My love of the doctrines of the Faith will remain unscathed, even if the one who originally conveyed them to me does not. And I pray that Fr. Corapi feels similarly liberated to take whatever time he needs to pray, pause, and seek the still, small voice of God, knowing that it is not his burden alone to pass on the Faith. God has given us the truth through a system that is outside of and above any one man. And because of that, we are all free.