Day of Atonement and Healing – April 20, 2023
Thursday of the 2nd Week of Easter

Today, brothers and sisters, we gather during this month of April set aside to focus upon 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’s not insignificant that our prayer today takes place at the conclusion of a week that in so many respects opened up a wound that, while hardly healed, has burdened so many of our brothers and sisters. 

Two days ago, we buried Bishop Timlin, the 8th Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton.  While Bishop Timlin never abused a child, it must be acknowledged that the consequences of decisions on his part led to the suffering of some of the most vulnerable among us. 

The painful recollection of such realities for survivors of sexual abuse – even five years out from the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report investigating child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the Catholic Church and its cover-up by some Church leaders – is a stark reminder to us all of the grief and suffering that so many innocents have endured.  It is also a reminder to me – to many others in the Church – and to countless others throughout our society and world – that we must never forget this shameful chapter in the life of our Church in order to ensure that it never happens again.

It is significant that our prayer today takes place during the early days of the Easter season – a time during the course of the Church year in which we celebrate Jesus’ victory over suffering and death through the resurrection – and a time that reminds 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 six 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.  This week alone has reminded me – and hopefully many others – of that harsh reality. 

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.  In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we are reminded of the pain and suffering so unfairly inflicted upon Jesus – a good, innocent, loving presence consumed by a broken, sinful world.  We are also reminded, 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.  As Saint John asserts in his gospel, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”

Yet, for some of us, and especially for survivors of abuse, it’s hard to come to terms with the suffering and pain that result from the crosses we bear – even when the Word of God promises us a hopeful way forward.  Time doesn’t always heal.  And for all of our ability, determination and resolve – we can’t fix everything ourselves.  Ultimately, we are not in control of our lives.  The pandemic that enveloped our world three years ago reminded us of that fact, a realization that can be both frightening and overwhelming.

Yet, it’s during such moments when we realize that we are helpless on our own that our faith can enable us to understand how God works best works within our lives.   …  When we have nowhere else to turn – when we acknowledge that we are powerless on our own to fix 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 ourselves.  Recall the words from today’s Responsorial Psalm taken from Psalm 34.  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.  Many are the troubles of the just man, but out of them all, the Lord delivers him.”

Brothers and sisters, the words of the psalmist capture the heart of the message of Easter!  God is close to the brokenhearted.  The crushed in spirit he saves.  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.  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 reflect his life and love to a world so desperately in need of it.