Day of Atonement and Healing – April 8, 2021
Thursday within the Octave of Easter
Today, brothers and sisters, we gather on this World Day for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Healing and Justice. And we pray for God’s healing and peace for all survivors of sexual abuse and particularly for those abused by members of the clergy and trusted Church workers. We pray as well for mercy and forgiveness for those who inflicted such abuse or enabled it to occur.
It is significant that our prayer today takes place in the heart of the Octave of Easter – the eight days that the Church sets aside to celebrate Jesus’ victory over suffering and death through the resurrection – eight days that remind us that the cross of Jesus, despite the burden of its overwhelming pain, was not the end of Jesus’ story but, through the power of God, gave way to the fullness of life, meaning and peace for Jesus – and for each of us through faith.
Brothers and sisters, while we have celebrated this Mass in a very public way for three years now, it is more vital today than ever that we continue to pray for survivors of abuse. Why? Because there is still pain. A few years of public prayer can’t change a lifetime of suffering. So many survivors continue to be burdened by nightmares of inhuman behavior on the part of those who should have been trustworthy but were not.
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 over the years 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, 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. 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.
Friends, today’s scripture passages remind us of another cross. They remind us of the pain and suffering so unfairly inflicted upon Jesus – a good, innocent, loving presence consumed by a broken, sinful world. They also remind us, however, that sin and death did not have the final word in Jesus’ experience. God overcame the powers of evil and raised Jesus from the dead. And we who gather in his name at this time of prayer are “witnesses” to the saving, healing presence of God, not just in Jesus’ life, but in our world and in our lives as well.
Yet, for most of us, and especially for survivors of abuse that has resulted from evils so callously inflicted upon innocent lives, it’s hard to come to terms with such suffering and pain – despite the fact that it may have occurred years and years ago. Time doesn’t always heal.
And for all of the pain and suffering that so many have endured, this past year has compounded our pain in many ways and has been disruptive to our peace. … We’ve been buffeted by the harsh winds of a global pandemic that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and here at home and that has become a source of anxiety and deep concern. … We’ve been forced to keep our distance from one another, spending great lengths of time alone – apart from those relationships that nurture our spirit and bring consolation to our broken hearts. … We’ve feared for the well-being of ourselves and those we love and cherish. … We’ve lost far too many during these challenging months, without even the opportunity to grieve them in a way that brings closure and peace.
And perhaps more than anything else, we have confronted the harsh realization that in life – for all of our ability, determination and resolve – we are not ultimately in control of our lives. That realization can be a very frightening reality, can’t it?
Yet, it’s in moments of such desperation that our faith can help us come to understand how God works best works within our lives. … When we have nowhere else to turn – when we’re no longer capable of fixing the things that have gone awry in our lives – God is finally given room to step into our lives and to carry us when we can no longer walk on our own. In his letter to the Church at Corinth, Saint Paul confronts the reality of his own suffering amid the broken world in which he finds himself, “I willingly boast of my weakness that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
If we can see ourselves in Jesus’ suffering and death, our faith tells us that we have nothing to fear. St. Paul once again says that “if we have died with Christ” – not just at the time of our passing from this world but also and especially through the crosses that we carry in life – “we shall also live with him,” not only in eternity but in this moment of our journey of faith.
Brothers and sisters, that is Easter! … That is what we celebrate this day in our prayer during this Eastertide! … God, in Christ, embraces our suffering – all of it, as unfair and as painful as it may be – and gives us hope to move forward in our journey of life and faith.
As Bishop of this local Church, I again apologize for the pain that has been inflicted upon far too many of you by leaders of our Church. In this season of hope and new life, I ask for forgiveness from the countless numbers of you who have suffered so much. And I pledge to continue to do all within my power to keep our Churches and schools safe for our children and for all of our people to worship, to pray, to learn and to grow in their faith.
May the risen Jesus heal us of our pain, fill us with his love and strengthen us to walk together in faith and so reflect his life and love to a world so desperately in need of it.