MOURNING THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE, ROBBED CHILDHOODS, STOLEN FUTURES, DESTROYED FAITH AND CRIMES AGAINST BOTH GOD AND HUMANITY
Sunday BibleTalk: September 9th, 2018
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Greetings, SBT Readers:
In my scripture reflection for this, the
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time,
I point out the necessity for us to carry our particular crosses -- that each is designed to move us forward, spiritually speaking. We must take up this cross not out of a sense of masochistic victimhood, but with the awareness that this cross of ours holds the key to our transformation. We can only become "perfect" disciples when we are willing to accept this cross and learn from it
(*Please note, however, my comments regarding abusive relationships and work situations).
If we apply this principle to where the church stands today, the key to institutional transformation will only come when we pick up that enormous cross that has cast its shadow over us all-- the suffering inflicted by clerical sexual abuse. Just as the church has had to deal with crosses in the past, so it now needs to humble itself and pick up this most recent cross. Sadly, past crosses checker our history: the church has had to face its moral failure concerning the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, collaboration with economic and political colonialism, failure to confront oppressive regimes .... With varying degrees of success, the church has had to admit its shortcomings, ask for forgiveness and make reparation, where possible. In some cases, it has taken decades -- even centuries-- for this process even to begin.
We cannot afford to wait for decades. The particular cross facing us now as an institution demands immediate 1) full disclosure 2) full accountability 3) full reparation 4) genuine repentance 5) the dismantling of clericalism 6) a new "reformation" of clergy and laity alike. Ironically, those taking the lead in demanding such a process are the survivors of clergy abuse. By taking up their cross (instead of repressing memories, allowing themselves to be silenced or avoiding going public), these survivors have become the voice of moral outrage. While members of the hierarchy have not only failed to act but have deliberately obstructed justice, these heroic women and men have stepped out of their comfort zones to provide prophetic leadership. We need to stand in solidarity with them and be part of the change that MUST take place now, and not in some future time.
Please note that
is an imperfect production, entirely unscripted and therefore prone to some "rough spots" in terms of clarity and expression!
He summoned the crowd with his disciples saying
"Whoever wish to come after me must deny themselves,
take up their cross, and follow me.
For whoever wish to save their lives will lose them,
but whoever lose their lives for my sake
and that of the gospel will save them."
MK 8: 27-35
Peter's conflict echoes that of the crowd. He has witnessed Jesus' various healing miracles, observed the casting out of demons, seen Jesus calm storms and raise the dead, and watched in amazement as Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 with nothing more than 5 loaves and two fish. All these signs help him to conclude that Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Messiah, the Holy One of God. As soon as Jesus mentions the Passion, however, all Peter's assumptions are over-turned. He moves from a statement of faith in Jesus to privately rebuking him. Jesus' response is public and immediate:
"Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do"
(Mk 8:33). Then come his conditions for discipleship: self-denial, taking up one's cross and following Jesus.
Peter's conflict is also our conflict. It is easy to believe when things are going well-- when we find solutions to our problems, answers to our questions, comfort in our losses, clarity in our confusion, and reconciliation in broken relationships. Promotions, new jobs, a financial windfall, marriages, the birth of a child or grandchild, a new home, a success or achievement, a miraculous recovery -- all these experiences help us conclude that God is indeed with us, guiding our steps, protecting our interests and providing everything we might need. We believe because we have witnessed the power of God in our own lives and it makes sense to believe. But what happens when the Passion of Jesus and our own trips to Golgotha become part of the equation? Do we still believe when we get demoted, laid off or fired from the job we love? Or when we struggle to pay our bills and end up with mounting credit card debts, perhaps with bankruptcy? Or when our marriage or relationship breaks down? Or when a pregnancy ends in miscarriage or in the birth of a child with multiple disabilities? Or when we lose our home to foreclosure or have to abandon it because we can no longer pay the mortgage? Or when all our efforts result in failure or, worse still, embarrassment and shame? Or when our health problems spiral out of control, leaving us physically, mentally and emotionally impaired?
Do we still believe?
Jesus not only instructs us to pick up our crosses -- whatever they happen to be-- but to "deny ourselves." This is a difficult text. I don't believe it means that we go looking for
cross, but that we must pick up the
cross that manifests in our own lives. This cross is uniquely ours. There is a
that God never gives us any cross we cannot bear, but this suggests Divine arbitrariness, even capriciousness. Would a just and loving God take stock of humanity and then decide who was capable of the heavier crosses? I think not. Rather, from my own grappling with a variety of crosses, I conclude that Divine Wisdom knows exactly what each of us needs in order to be stripped of ego and all sinful inclinations, Self-denial means that, whether we like it or not, we pick up the cross which is ultimately going to transform us. Instead of trying to avoid this cross or protecting ourselves against it or passing it on to someone else, we pick it up; and instead of complaining and acting like victims, we study it and learn from it, bravely trying to discern what healing it holds for us. Please note that there is a difference between picking up our genuine cross and enduring a cross that someone else has imposed upon us. For example, if we are in an unsafe relationship or dealing with an abusive employer, then we need to make as quick an exit as possible. The cross, in fact, might be choosing to be single when one would prefer to be married or choosing unemployment over a paycheck that comes with a price tag of abuse!
Just as the Cross of Jesus becomes the
, the sacred Tree connecting heaven and earth, the human and the divine, so
crosses are also sacred and salvation-bearing. Though they bring pain and suffering, they are the only way to risen life in Jesus. We cannot become who we are called to be when we look for a detour away from Calvary!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- Have you ever tried to run from your cross in life and, if so, what was the result?
- What crosses have you had to pick up and what have you learned from them?
- Have you ever picked up someone else's cross, believing you were helping that person? Would you do so again today?
In a recent edition of
I called on spiritual directors to form
in which parishioners and religious leaders can share their thoughts and feelings regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in a "safe" and respectful format; such faith-based groups could also be facilitated by pastoral counselors, chaplains, Christian coaches, teachers etc. I am offering a session by conference-call for anyone who wishes to join me. The group will be limited to ten participants who must pre-register by email (email@example.com) to receive the conference code; there is no cost to participate.
DATE: September 27th, 6:30-7:30 p.m. (CST)
- Brief introductions: first name and why YOU have chosen to participate in a Listening Session.
- Sharing of images which capture how YOU feel about the sex abuse crisis e.g. your parish church demolished by a wrecking ball or the contents of the chalice spilling over the altar after the consecration.
- Sharing of how the ongoing revelations about sexual abuse and cover-ups have affected YOUR faith in God and in the institutional church.
- Sharing of what YOU need at this time to support you in your faith journey.
- Sharing of how YOU can help others in their own spiritual healing process.
- Discussion of what the Church needs to do to be fully transparent, to respond to the needs of the abused and of the outraged, and to return to Gospel values.
- Brief "check-in" regarding the Listening Circle process.
- Closing prayers of intercession offered by participants who wish to end with prayer or optional silence.