Day of Atonement and Healing – April 7, 2022
Thursday of the 5th Week of Lent
Today, brothers and sisters, as we gather during this month dedicated to Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Prevention, we do so at a moment in our lives and history that is fraught with suffering and pain. … The eyes of our world are fixed upon the unbelievable destruction, grief and loss being inflicted upon innocent lives in Ukraine. … We grieve with and for the Ukrainian people, even as our world continues to grapple with the uncertainty and fear associated with the global pandemic that we have battled for over two years. … And our hearts continue to be broken for the countless numbers of survivors of sexual abuse and particularly for those abused by members of the clergy and trusted Church workers.
And so, in this moment of upheaval, we do the only thing that makes sense in the midst of a world that so frighteningly reminds us that for all of our ability, determination and resolve, we are not ultimately in control of our lives. We pray!
We pray for God’s healing and peace for the people of Ukraine and for all who have been burdened by the coronavirus. And this day, we pray for all survivors of sexual abuse and particularly for those who have suffered such abuse within the Church.
While we have celebrated this Mass in a very public way for four years now, it is vital 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. While the Church has become much more cognizant of the need to eradicate this horrific behavior from its ranks once and for all, this crisis is not over! Far too many of our members continue to suffer. And only our recognition and acknowledgement of their pain can truly prompt us to change and to create a Church deserving of people’s trust.
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.
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.
The gospel story shared this afternoon is the same gospel proclaimed by Pope Francis to the people of the world during a prayer service that he held in Saint Peter’s Square at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in late March, 2020. In those days when our world literally shut down and we feared for our very lives as we were confronted by suffering, death and the uncertainty of the impact of the virus upon our lives, the Holy Father invited us all to reflect with him on the age old question of the presence of God in the midst of suffering.
The disciples were caught off guard by an unexpected and furious storm as they sailed their boat in the Sea of Galilee. As the storm intensified and they became more disoriented and fearful, they cried out to Jesus, who was fast asleep in the boar and seemingly oblivious to their plight. “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we are going to drown?”
They think Jesus doesn’t care. Yet, when they finally face their situation, their suffering and their fears and realize that they have nowhere else to turn but to their Lord – to God – what happens? Jesus calms the winds and the waters and leads them to peace. “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
Notice that Jesus never minimizes the suffering and fears of his disciples in the midst of the storm. What he does is to invite the disciples – and us – to embrace the blessings of faith and to trust that he is with us, even when we struggle to feel his presence. Indeed, Jesus challenges us from his own cross and suffering to unite our crosses with his and, in so doing, to discover the courage to embrace the hope that he gives – the strength of faith which frees us from fear and gives us a way forward.
Brothers and sisters, this is the message of Jesus Christ that we are called to embrace as his people. … “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” … 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 continue to apologize for the pain that has been inflicted upon far too many of you by leaders of our Church. I once again ask for forgiveness from the countless numbers of you who have suffered so much. And as I have shared many times before, I pledge 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 Jesus heal us of our pain, fill us with his love, strengthen us in faith and so reflect his life and love to a world so desperately in need of his peace.