Last Sunday we talked about the mystery of God and of how God shows us some of who God is, but not all. We get more of that this weekend as the Scriptures show us a most gracious God–one passionately in love with all of creation—most caring and even prodigal in that caring—loving us to excess! Most of us humans tend to love rather selfishly—we love because we have been loved, and often times, if we haven’t been loved, or been treated badly, our first reaction is certainly not to love our abusers or those who have mistreated us.
This year I have been doing a great deal of reading on the clergy sex abuse crisis probably due to the showing of the film, Spotlight documenting the investigative work of the Boston Globe in 2002. I had previously read quite a bit on this travesty but my reading this time is to try and understand why this happened in a Church that professes to follow our brother Jesus who according to our Scriptures always treated children with the greatest of care and love. In fact, he spoke rather harshly about what should happen to those who would ever hurt or lead them astray.
The closest I can come to any kind of understanding is, as the old adage goes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Certainly there is more to it than that—the whole clerical system that teaches these men that they are a grade above everyone else, above the law even, plays a role. Accepting men who haven’t the maturity needed or vetted for their ability to be true servant leaders and training them not to question,but to accept and protect the institution over and above those that they are called to serve goes a long way toward giving birth to a system that not only allows abuse to happen but looks the other way when it is discovered.
What professionals who have looked into the phenomenon of clericalism and the sins that it spawns have found is a very sick institution that they say needs to be dismantled, needs to start again, needs to get back to the message of Jesus.
The clergy sex abuse crisis in all its revelations has done more to discredit the Catholic church in its hierarchy, cause it to be diminished in the eyes of the world than any other event in its long history. And against this backdrop; we hear the story of the Prodigal. Our God is truly a prodigal lover—one who does it “over-the-top.” Our loving God calls us to the same kind of loving. Prodigal goodness—over-the-top may be as hard for us to accept as is prodigal selfishness—and downright prodigal evilness.
As much as we don’t want to think of pedophilia within those called to serve, those we have trusted, this fact must be faced and addressed. The notoriety that Spotlight has received in being named, Picture of the Year, along with the organization, SNAP (Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests) has done more to heal its victims and their families than anything our Church officials have done.
When the Boston cover-up was finally exposed in 2002 which was huge in itself, but proved that the cover-up was basically worldwide, victims of these heinous crimes, and let’s be clear; we are talking about rape of little children, were further abused by Church officials who stated that they were only after the money paid out in settlements—no prodigal or even minimal charity or understanding shown here.
Victims have said time and again, they only wanted to be listened to, to receive understanding and some heartfelt sorrow for what was done to them. Even to this day, we have yet to hear any heartfelt sorrow from Church officials, the bishop of the Winona diocese included—the most we get is, “mistakes were made!” SNAP has reported that with the first showing of Spotlight increased numbers of victims were able to address their victimization of decades ago for the first time.
A question that we need to look at in the context of the story of the Prodigal who squanders all the good of the loving parent is how our God might look on the actions of the pedophile priests and those involved in the cover-up—it is one thing to be a sick individual committing unspeakable harm to children and quite another to cover-up the crime and make it possible for the crimes to continue. From all that has come out on this issue, one can only believe that the so-called leaders would not have done what they have to date to say, “no more” had they not been forced into it—not very prodigal, in the good sense, of these so-called leaders.
One thing that we must not lose sight of in the parable of the Prodigal Child and the Prodigal Parent is that the over-the-top love of the parent didn’t come into play—the running of the parent to embrace the child until the child had in fact decided to return to his father and all that this implies, the turning around of his life.
It would seem that the “shepherds” of this Church need to make this next step looking honestly at themselves and admit openly and publicly how they have squandered the loving gifts of our prodigal God—choosing power over love. Only then, can we move on as the Church of our brother Jesus. And that would truly be something to celebrate! As Jesus through the parable states and I paraphrase, these were lost and now they are found—they were dead and have come back to life!
All of our readings today speak to the over-the-top love of our God. The first reading from Joshua recounts the end of the journey of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt as their loving God leads them into the land flowing with milk and honey. By rights they probably deserved punishment for all the times in their human, stubborn natures that they turned from God—but no, again we see the gracious goodness of God toward them.
In the second reading from Paul, he tells the Corinthians and us that we aren’t required to offer sacrifice anymore because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection which have been to reconcile us before our loving God who has loved us in a prodigal way—always! All that the Creator asks in return is that we be reconciled with the rest of creation—that we would honestly strive to be people of peace, love, joy, mercy and justice. To listen to one of the candidates running for the highest office in our country this year, you wouldn’t believe that this in on his mind at all. Equally disturbing is that his message is being accepted by many!
And that is the hardest lesson about reconciliation rather than aggression. But in seemingly hard times in our lives when we are faced with evil versus good—truth , it is good to remember the facts of the Gospel story. The returning prodigal realizes what he has done and with the realization of wrong-doing, comes the desire to make a change in his life. Until one comes to that conclusion, there is little that can be done in our Church or elsewhere in our world.
Love is hard work and there simply is no way around it—love calls us to do the right thing even when it would be so much easier to forget the wrong-doing, and take the easy way out. We must remember that the rejoicing is over the prodigal’s return with the understanding of a need to change, not the enabling of continued bad behavior. Taking one back, giving them another chance, simply allows for the change to happen.
What Jesus is trying to teach us today is that our God loves us enough to call us to repentance—to be our best selves and when we choose that as the prodigal son did in the story today, that is reason to rejoice. Hopefully, the men in our Church who wish to be our leaders would hear the message of Jesus when they read the story of the Prodigal this weekend. That is my prayer for them and our Church.
Our Lenten task today and this next week might be to reflect on the gracious goodness of God in our lives—of the times, but for the strength of God, we would have floundered. We all know of God’s love through the concrete examples of love shown us by family members and friends. As we remember the gracious goodness extended to us, let us my friends, extend that goodness forward to all in our lives.