Yesterday I walked onto our back porch and sat for a while in silence. The sunshine played across the flowers and the distant shrine of Mary, Queen of Apostles. But the beauty and the light did little to calm the emotions that are tearing at my heart, as they are, I'm sure, at yours.
I was stationed here in Boston for the “long great lent” of 2002 after the Globe’s Spotlight report. I never heard the “repent and be saved” nature of the daily Lenten Mass readings in all their power and urgency as I did that Lent. I suspect I wasn’t the only one whose heart was caught off guard by the seriousness of God’s call to conversion. (We are, after all, talking about more than “giving up chocolate” for forty days.) In how many emails did I apologize to people who wrote to me for what they had suffered at the hands of ministers of the Church, knowing I was but one step toward peace for all these people who needed a listening ear for their pain. Each of them impressed on me anew the need for us all to “repent and be saved” not just for ourselves, but for the sake of others.
It has been sixteen years since then. Dioceses, parishes, and schools were to implement policies, procedures and task forces to ensure the safety of children in any setting where a member of the Church was present. These efforts were a part of our “conversion,” although we could never ever return to those who had been victimized through sexual abuse the freshness and joy of their innocence and the spiritual joy that once had been theirs as a daughter and son of God.
And here we are again with the news swimming with reports of the seriousness of the crisis we thought was under control. This time, again, the liturgical readings are stunning, prophetic of the power of God. The readings of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time were particularly meaningful to me.
On Monday of that week, the Responsorial Psalm (from Deuteronomy 32) summed up our situation:
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth.
The LORD saw it, and was jealous;
he spurned his sons and daughters.
He said: I will hide my face from them,
I will see what their end will be;
for they are a perverse generation,
children in whom there is no faithfulness.
They made me jealous with what is no god,
provoked me with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with what is no people,
provoke them with a foolish nation. (NRSV)
The Gospel on Tuesday (Matthew 19:23-30) aroused in me a new desire to truly follow Jesus. Peter said to the Lord: “We have given up everything and followed you…” Everything. Every last little thing…to follow Jesus. Yes. This is the grain of wheat that we have somehow missed in these past 40 years or so, and thus our field is now sown with weeds.
The reading on Wednesday was from Ezekiel, the first 11 verses of chapter 34. Through his prophet Ezekiel, the Lord God says to the shepherds of Israel that they have not cared for their sheep and so they were scattered because they had no shepherd and became a prey to wild beasts. They wandered all over the mountain. Therefore...
And pay attention here. Here is the decisive shift:
Therefore, the Lord God says:
“I will save my sheep.”
“I myself will look after and tend my sheep.”
The Responsorial Psalm had us pray the beautiful Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” In Thursday’s reading from Ezekiel (36:23-38), the Lord promises that he will bring his people back from exile where they have been led because of their corruption and sinfulness. And then the Lord God announces an astounding gift. It could only be a gift, for his people had lost everything having not been faithful to God “who had given them birth.” Notice how many times God uses the word “I” below as he makes this promise to his people:
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
As we look around at the Church here in the US, only God can bring about in us the complete renewal of holiness and purity we need. We have tried and we have failed in so many ways.
The reading for Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time (which was replaced by the reading for the feast of St Bartholomew) presents the powerful image of the dry bones:
The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”…
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD.”
After the Resurrection and before the Ascension, Jesus entrusted his disciples to the Word. It is in the Scriptures that we find our ultimate guide through perilous and complex times such as our own. Each of us will play our own part in the drama of salvation history as it plays out in the next few years, but all of us have only one foundation: Jesus Christ. We are nourished with his Word and his Body. Throughout all of Church history there is a tragic leaning toward evil on the part of some individuals within the Church from which even Jesus himself suffered. The Word tells us that even this situation in which we find ourselves as Catholics today—horrible on every level, but most especially for the victims of clergy sex abuse...of any form of sexual abuse—can be turned to account by the action of the Holy Spirit. Through the Word we realize that the mystery of the Church is deeper than all our talking and speculation could take us.
We need to pray.
Seek to be moved by God in whatever action we are inspired to take.
We need to seek the good of the community.
We can be sure that through all this, God himself has taken it upon himself to purify us and may no rock be left uncovered… not even the rocky places of my own heart. It is a powerful time to be alive in the Church, a time which needs saints…no, a time which needs great saints!
With many prayers for each and all of you,
Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP