Day of Atonement and Healing – September 16, 2019
II Corinthians 4:7-15; John 19:25-27
A year ago, we gathered on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, which is commemorated in the Church’s calendar on September 15th. At that time, I led this local Church in prayer for God’s healing – mercy – and forgiveness.
It had been one month since the release of the report of the 40th statewide Grand Jury investigating child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the Catholic Church and its cover-up by some Church leaders. During that Mass, I acknowledged on behalf of so many of our good and faithful people, our religious and our clergy that our Diocese was enveloped in what was and continues to be one of the darkest moments in the history of the Catholic Church and certainly in our 150 year history as a diocese.
A year later, I can stand before you and tell you that we have done a lot to change and to continue to create a safe place in the Church, especially for our young people. We’ve trained over 30,000 staff and volunteers. We cooperate with law enforcement. We attempt to be as transparent and open in our actions as we possibly can be. And we have established a fund to compensate, in some small way, survivors of abuse.
Yet, year later, there is still pain. … A year can’t change a lifetime of suffering. Survivors of abuse continue to be burdened by the ramifications of such inhuman behavior on the part of those who should have been trustworthy.
None of us will ever know the depth of the pain that survivors endure. Yet, in courageously sharing their pain, so many of them with whom I’ve spoken this past year have taught me a great lesson. They’ve taught me that if the Church is truly intent upon creating safe environments for its children and all of God’s people, we – the Church and especially Church leaders – must never forget or allow time to numb us to the pain that was so willfully inflicted on innocent lives by those who postured themselves as God’s representatives and ministers of his love and mercy. Indeed, an authentic recognition of the pain of that cross is the only thing that can truly prompt us to change and to create a Church deserving of people’s trust.
Today’s Mass, during which we commemorate the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is a profound reminder to all of us of that pain – of the brokenness of our Church – and of suffering in our world. The gospel passage from Saint John proclaimed today – in its brevity – captures the depth of suffering in our world as a result of the evils that are so callously inflicted upon the innocent. Mary stands at the foot of the cross, watching her son – an innocent victim – a loving man who selflessly proclaimed God’s message of mercy and salvation – struggle in pain and die. … For most of us, this moment in time seems senseless. It’s hard to come to terms with suffering and pain.
The Jewish author, Elie Wiesel, in his book Night, chronicles the horrors he experienced living in Nazi death camps during the Second World War. He remembers a young boy, hanged with two other men at the Nazi camp at Buna. He writes:
“For more than ½ an hour, the boy struggled between life and death, dying a slow agony under our eyes. We had to look at him full in the face. Behind me, I heard someone asking: “Where is God now?” And Dr. Wiesel goes on to say: “I heard a voice within me answer: ‘Where is God? Here he is – he is hanging here on these gallows.’”
And we turn our attention to the cross on which hangs Jesus, our crucified God. A crucified God not due to a lack of relevance in the midst of a suffering world. No – a crucified God – suffering with a broken world – suffering with those afflicted with cancer and other illnesses – and suffering with victims of abuse.
God could have chosen to relate to his creation in anyway he wanted. Yet he chose to relate to it – to us who are made in his very image and likeness – through his son Jesus, who took on human flesh and substance. And he chose to have Jesus carry a cross so that we, in our suffering, might discover a God who understands because he too carried a cross – a God who suffers with us – and a God who overcomes suffering with resurrection and life.
This crisis in our Church has caused many to understandably step away and question where God is to be found in the midst of such suffering. I dare say, however, that it is a crisis that will only be resolved when our broken Church begins to embrace far more authentically than we have in the past the true nature of the God whom we worship in Jesus – a selfless, loving God who gave his life for the people entrusted to his care.
As Bishop of this local Church, I deeply apologize for the pain that has been inflicted upon far too many of you by leaders of our Church. Once again, I ask for forgiveness from the countless numbers of you who have suffered so much. I pledge to continue to do all within my power to create a safe place for our children and for all of our people to worship, to pray, to learn and to grow in their faith. And I pray that we will all find hope in those wonderful words from Saint Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth as he speaks to us of the treasure of faith:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not cotnrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
(II Corinthians 4:7-11)
May we pray for the courage to once again walk together in faith to renew the Church of Christ and to reflect his life and love to a world so desperately in need of it. Our Lady of Sorrows – pray for us!