Ps 34 R/. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
It’s been a difficult month in the Church in North America, especially this past week, as we’ve been hearing about clergy sex abuse and how deep the historical cover-up has been. I don’t know any Priest who’s not shaken up or even angered by all of this, as I’m sure you are. These reports have shown us a Church culture that hasn’t been concerned with the pastoral care of people or of helping victims to heal and recover, but rather with self-protection and hiding the sins of shepherds.
And I can’t say that it completely surprises me. This is a fruit of a maintenance culture, a culture that has abandoned mission and seeks only to maintain privilege and status. It pains me to say that in our day this is the prevalent culture in the Church –– and not just in the U.S..
But this isn’t anything new. Throughout history, we see that every time the Church gets comfortable, every time her members feel as though they’re ‘okay’, things go awry. Luxury and comfort kick in; power, prestige and politics become the objectives; and abuse and debauchery of all different sorts rear their ugly heads. And this isn’t just with the clergy. Look at the world around us! If clergy do it, it’s because it’s found in society; and if the clergy do it, the laity is also sure to follow. It’s truly a vicious circle. That’s why the Church always needs to be vigilant about herself and seek to always reform, renew and refocus herself on Christ. And again, this isn’t just for the clergy, it’s for all of the baptised.
A difference we see today is how sick it’s gotten, and how deeply hurtful it’s become for victims and for all members of the Church. I don’t think anyone is left untouched by this in some way or other. And, as odd as it sounds, that’s a good thing! Because it’s only by being disturbed that change will come about. By noticing how far we’ve fallen, we can then turn back to Jesus, seek His mercy and His grace, and ask the Holy Spirit to bring about healing and transformation in our hearts, in our lives and in the Church. And I think it’s precisely because He desires this transformation that God has made all these horrible things to come to light. Healing can only begin when we know what the problem is, and the disease must be eradicated if the patient is to recover.
When we look at the reports, we see that a great part of the problem has been complacency: clergy and laity alike have stopped seeking holiness, have stopped growing in faith, have stopped trying to be like Jesus. And yet, as we hear in the Gospel today this is exactly why Jesus gave us the Eucharist. He’s given us His Body and Blood –– and continues to do so –– so that we might have life. And not just any life, but His life, so that we might become like Him: He living in us and we in Him.
I hope and pray that history will one day show that this great scandal today will be the catalyst for a renewal in the Church, not a death of faith but a renewal; a refocussing on Jesus and a renewed desire for holiness. Because that’s why Jesus created the Church. That’s why He gave us Priests: to lead us to Him and to bring us His transforming grace. This is what St. Paul reminds us in the second reading: be careful how you live, … making the most of the time… do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is(Eph 5:15, 16-17).
This is a wake-up call to all disciples of Jesus that we need to turn back to Him, that we need to allow Him to change our hearts and our lives and become imitators of Him. And not just a little bit, but increasingly, so that His holiness may be revealed in us.
This is also a reminder to the whole Church of the importance of letting go of “the way things have always been” so as to rediscover our mission. We’re not meant for maintenance but for mission! We’re called as a Church –– clergy and laity alike –– to focus our work on making disciples; on bringing people to Jesus so that they can find in Him healing, forgiveness and life; on working for the salvation of souls –– not simply for our own, and certainly not for power and prestige.
This is why it’s so important for us to spend time in prayer every day. While we may not become predators if we don’t, we certainly will become too comfortable and too complacent to do anything to change the mess we’re in. Rather than be discouraged or withdrawing amid this scandal, we need to recommit ourselves to Jesus, to the Church, to our Parish, so that the life Christ wants to give will take hold of us, and by renewing us, renew the whole Church. It really does depend on each of us turning more intently to Jesus.
I ask also that you pray in a particular way for victims of clergy abuse. Not only are they still hurting from the grievous wounds of abuse, the retelling of stories and events in these days is also reopening their wounds and renewing their hurt. And know that these victims are not in distant Parishes; they’re among us, even in our own Parish, and they need our love, our help and our prayers. This must never happen again.
May God have mercy on us, and through the gift of His grace, bring about in each of our lives and in the whole Church, lasting transformation that will lead to the holiness of her members and to the rewards of eternal life. Amen.