Drain the swamp

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

This is not, of course, a political piece, much less, a partisan one, though the title is a phrase that was popularized by US President Trump during his presidential campaign way back in 2016. He actually did not coin it, but with the way he is and how the state of US politics can be described, this expression enjoyed tremendous following.

Wikipedia describes this expression as alluding “to the physical draining of swamps to keep mosquito populations low to combat malaria.” But it is often used by politicians to refer to their effort to root out systemic corruption or whatever has become systemically wrong in the government bureaucracy or in the political world.

It is an expression that definitely can also be applied to whatever is wrong at any level of the Church structure, especially when what is wrong there has become systemic.

We should not be surprised by this phenomenon. Given our own weaknesses and the many temptations around, we cannot deny that in spite of everything that Christ has given us to make us holy individually and collectively, we always have the possibility of lapsing into subtle compromises with error and sin until their consequences become endemic to a particular Church structure.

Even during the time of Christ, this draining of the swamp was already done. Christ had to contend with the warped understanding of religion that the leading Jews of that time had.

Remember those lamentations Christ made against the Pharisees and the scribes as recorded in Chapter 23 in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Some words of Christ may be helpful to give us a savor of how he felt about the swamp that was the state of religion at that time:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others, etc., etc.”

We really need to be very sharply aware of this danger and should be prepared to take the necessary precautions and, if needed,  to do battle with it. That’s when we have to learn the art of draining the swamp, starting with our own selves by seeing to it that we avoid complacency, spiritual lukewarmness and any compromise with error and sin, no matter how slight.

And when we see signs of systemic compromises in any level of our Church structure, we should react immediately. In fact, it would be better that we nip these compromises in the bud. But if these compromises have already gained some ground, then we really should react with appropriate vigor and prudence.

It is our duty to keep the Church structure fit to sacramentalize the Body of Christ or the People of God that the Church is. In this regard, our Catechism tells us that the Church, “clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time.” (CCC 827)

So we are all asked to continue the work of penance and conversion, purification and renewal. This is something that we should not forget, especially when we tend to believe that we are already good or holy. We still have feet of clay, and the possibility of falling is always there.

Of course, in draining the swamp in the Church structure, we should always practice charity. Bitter zeal has no place in the Church. Better to suffer than to lack charity!

Email: roycimagala@gmail.com