As I said in this week’s bulletin; this is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time for a while as move into the holy season of Lent with Ash Wednesday this week. The ashes are a sign of our vulnerability in this life and point the way to a new and different life one day with God. I say, “a new and different life” because our God is with us, every day, closer to us than we are to ourselves, it has been said; but this will be different! In fact, we are told that we can’t even imagine what God has prepared for us! We will talk of this more as we move into Lent, but for now, let’s look at the messages of this week.
Our day in and day out life with our God as followers of our brother, Jesus, can be said quite well, I think in Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians today: [Be] “fully engaged in the work of Jesus.”
We might ask then—just what does this “work” entail? As you know; I am fond of saying, “It’s all about love!” In any situation; we must apply the law of love, especially when we aren’t sure of the way to go in a particular situation that we are confronted with. If we can answer that, love is being served, that we are doing the most loving thing in what we are choosing to do, that the needs of others and not just those of myself will be addressed, then we can be quite sure that we are more “fully engaged in the work of Jesus” as Paul says.
And more specifically, Sirach zeroes in on our actions saying that, “It is in conversation, in a person’s words that we will know their worth.” It is another way of saying, “You will know the truth—the good of something, “by the fruits.”
Sirach’s words are fulfilled in Jesus’ words today from Luke, “All people speak from their heart’s abundance—a good tree does not produce decayed fruit any more than a decayed tree produces good fruit.”
As I listened to all the rhetoric coming out of Washington this week about “truth-telling” or lack of it; I thought that these words from our prophets serve us well today. Whether a person is believable or not seems to stem from the impression they have made on us—through their words, but more importantly, through their actions!
Diane Bergant, scripture scholar speaks to this issue in her commentary on today’s readings. As we all know, and she makes the point of saying; one only has one chance to make a good first impression. The trouble with this, she continues, is that our culture often holds up less than good criteria for what makes a “good, or acceptable” person—many times the criteria have to do with external things; the clothes we wear, the shape of our bodies and so on. And how unfortunate if we never go any deeper than that!
It is only in living—through our life experiences, and with others, she suggests, that we come to see what is most important about those we meet in our lives—what they are made of–on the inside. This is called, “wisdom”—something we hopefully come to in our lifetimes.
When we are driven by the externals alone, she goes on, the genuine person loses out. Part of our hopelessness, it seems to me, in viewing the combined stories of Church and State, at present, is the lack of genuineness, of truth, of those willing to speak truth to power, boldly and with conviction, demonstrating what are the tenets of faith and integrity upon which many of these so-called leaders in both places, stand.
I was encouraged this past week in reading a National Catholic Reporter article on the newer bishops in this country, those in the age range of 50-59, and in particular, four that were named in the piece. I want to tell you a bit about them as I feel the hope for our Church lays in their hands, their actions and others like them.
These men all attended Pope Francis’ meeting in Rome this past week on the crisis of clergy sexual abuse and as the article stated; they left energized and anxious to get to work! These men, Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, MO, Steven Biegler of Cheyanne, WY, John Stowe of Lexington, KY and William Wack of the Pensacola/Tallahassee diocese in Florida all share the idea that “transparency and accountability” are the ways to go forward as opposed to the older idea that all troubles should be handled internally which we all know, clearly hasn’t worked.
The four men that I have named here believe that these ideas of “transparency and accountability” will be “key” at June’s National Bishops’ Meeting. As Bishop Wack from Florida stated, [he] “sees himself and other younger ones as part of the solution” to this crisis within our Church. I would lift up these men for our prayers in applying the “law to love” to this crisis.
The thought that these men are on the right track has been confirmed by the national/international organization, SNAP (Survivors’ Network for those Abused by Priests) when they praised the work of Shawn McKnight and Steven Biegler.
We can be encouraged by the words of Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, KY who has stated, “This is virtually been a part of my journey since entering the seminary 33 years ago. I’ve been meeting with victims, he says, since my first year of priesthood.” It would seem that now is the best chance of something meaningful being done to address these grievous crimes!
Another item out of the news this past week has been the on-going story of the religious women in India who have spoken their truth to power with regard to a former superior of theirs that they are supporting who was allegedly raped by her bishop. To date these women have received ridicule from other nuns, endured pressure from congregational leadership and apathy from Rome.
These tactics to silence truth-tellers are old and well-practiced within our Church and unfortunately, have been tolerated by the “faithful” because of clericalism, the institution that “lives” on the notion that the clergy are superior to the laity and with regard to women and children, allowing sexism and sexual abuse of both to flourish for far too long because they have considered these vulnerable ones less good than themselves.
Clericalism, sexism and the sexual abuse of children must, simply must, be on the agenda of the next bishops’ meeting because far too many hurt and disappointed Catholics have already ceased to care what they do.
According to Sirach, Bergant reminds us, the true test of the “pot” is seen in the firing. In other words, none of this will be easy—change is always hard and especially for those who have been entrenched so long on a certain path.
But again, as Paul reminds us today; we must be “fully engaged in the work of Jesus.” If that had been the case, the sexual abuse of children could never have gone on this long, coupled with the cover-up of these heinous crimes. And it isn’t enough for us to lay blame, but we must all be part of the solution by demanding of the bishops, at least within this country, that they become part of the solution instead of, part of the problem. We need to write our bishop, John Quinn, each one of us and encourage him to join with Bishops Shawn, Steven, John and William to be forthright, strong and filled with love as they together try to dismantle the sin of clericalism that has allowed so much harm for so long.
Jesus had no time for hypocrites, a word that in the Greek, Bergant reminds us, means play-acting or pre-tense. It was Jesus who stressed that we should never correct others before we have corrected ourselves—the story of the speck in their eyes versus the plank in our own. Self-righteousness clouds our view of our own faults.
So, my friends, let us pray for strength, for all, to be steadfast in the belief that our God loves us all and we do this best by keeping our eyes on Jesus. Amen? Amen!