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Month: September 2018

The Cry of the Little Ones

The Cry of the Little Ones

Today’s readings for Mass cut right into our hearts.  They remind us that “The word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit . . . .”  (Heb. 4:12)   Jesus’ words cut into our hearts. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  (Mark 9:42)

The danger when we hear these words is to think only how others have sinned and to be filled with anger toward them.  But then the Bible is being used as a sword of judgment of others, rather than a Word that pierces my soul.  The Scriptures can do us more harm than good, if we only apply them to others.  Listen to the Word today as a communal examination of conscience.

  • What patterns of sin in our church or nation are laid bare as we hear the Lord Jesus speak these words?
  • What sins in my heart are revealed?

The main challenge of the Gospel regards scandal.  “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin. . .”   A more literal translation is “Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in me.”  Scandalize might mean “cause to sin.”  It also means to “pervert or mislead someone,” in such a way that we cause others to lose their faith and fall away from God.

 The “little ones who believe” are catechumens, recent converts, or people of low esteem.  Little ones might be people who have no voice in society.  They might be the poor or less educated.

“Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  (Mark 9:42)

With that verse in mind, I will address three major causes of scandal in society.  The first has dominated in the news – the scandal of church leaders who failed to protect children from abuse.  A central aspect of the scandal is the break in trust with bishops.  It is not only that children were abused, but that bishops betrayed our trust.  The scandal is a break in trust.   People are asking:

  • How do we know they will do the right thing?
  • Will they protect the little ones?
  • Will they use their authority to serve?

Last week, Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” (Mk. 9:35)  Bishops are being reminded of our mission to serve the least, to use our authority to be a servant of all, especially to protect the least.

‘Protection’ is a main theme in the Scriptures when the little ones are mentioned.  In the Old Testament, God asserts unequivocally that he protects orphans, widows and immigrant foreigners who have no one else to protect them.  God hears them when they cry out to heaven for help.

In his recent letter Pope Francis stated that God hears the cries of the victims of abuse.  He wrote:  “The heart-wrenching pains of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.  But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it . . . The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands.” 

The opposite of scandalizing the little ones is to hear their cry for help, and protect the least.  We betrayed that mission.  The Word of God is calling us to task.

There are two other scandals that have been with us for a long time, so it is easy to become desensitized to them.  The scandal for both of them is rooted in our failure to recognize the dignity of the people involved.

First, the child in the womb cries out to us and says, “I am beautiful and precious in God’s eyes.  He hears my cry.  Will you hear my cry?  Listen to my voice, as you also listen to the voice of my mother who also suffers alone and receives little help from society.  We are both God’s little ones.  Remember, Jesus said, “Whatever you did to the least brothers (or sisters) of mine, you did to me.” (Matt. 25:40)

Just as we mourn the children wounded by abuse, we need to keep in mind the children in the womb who are often ignored.  Their cries are heard in heaven.

Finally, our treatment of poor refugees and immigrants is a source of scandal.  This is a touchy topic, and people are easily offended when it is mentioned.  A few basic questions as we consider immigrants and refugees as God’s little ones:  Do we see their dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God?  Do we see them as people like us?  Would I want to be treated like that?  Do we hear their cries?

Often they work in the poorest jobs and for the least wages.  They work hours that no one else wants to work.  Because they may not have the proper documents, they are not treated with dignity.  St. James speaks about this scandal today, “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”  (James 5:4)

Immigrants and refugees are some of the little ones who believe in Jesus, but we scandalize them by the way we ignore them or separate their children or fail to pay them just wages.

In the Bible, certain grievous sins cry out to heaven.  As St. James says, injustice to a poor wage earner is a sin that cries out to heaven.  In the Old Testament, oppression of the orphan, widow or foreign immigrant are sins that cry out to heaven.  Thus, killing a child in the womb is surely a sin that cries out to heaven.  Mindful of this teaching, Pope Francis includes the atrocities of sexual abuse as a sin that cries out to heaven.

These sins scandalize the little ones who believe.  They scandalize because those in power do not listen to the little ones.  They ignore their cries, mistreat or even kill them.  But “their cries have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”  Almighty God will give them justice.  We are his agents.  As faithful disciples, we are supposed to imitate God’s care for the least.

The opposite of scandalizing the little ones is to hear their cry for help and protect the least.  Will we hear their cries and protect them?

Challenged to witness

Challenged to witness

“What good is it, brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14)

Today is Catechetical Sunday.  As we celebrate the beginning of a new year of faith formation, St. James challenges us, “Put your money where your mouth is.”  We need to do more than talk about our faith.  Passing on the faith is not just a head trip.  It is more than a love affair of the heart with Jesus, as my Lord and Savior.  It is about acting like Jesus.

“What good is it . . . if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”

St. James reminds us that the Church exists to make disciples who act like Christ.  He challenges us to be faithful witnesses because we make disciples by our good example.  Yet, this summer, our hearts have been lacerated by unfaithful disciples, by the unfaithful witness of bishops.  They were chosen to be especially faithful witnesses to Jesus.  Yet, they failed to serve the least.  They failed to listen to victims who spoke about being abused, and they failed to protect others from abuse.

“What good is it . . . if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  How scandalous it is if a bishop preaches the faith, yet does not act with the charity of Christ toward others!

This week, I ran across a quote from Dorothy Day which will help us to deal with all of this.  She said, “As a convert, I never expected much of bishops. . . . In all of history, popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy.  I never expected leadership from them.  It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.” (https://aleteia.org/2018/08/21/dorothy-day-never-expected-much-of-the-bishops/)

Dorothy Day was inspired to be a disciple by the saints.  Reading stories of the saints is so essential to faithful discipleship. They remind us that we can live like Christ.  They encourage us when others around us are lukewarm or act scandalously.

To be a successful disciple is to be a SAINT, to be like Christ.  Success is not to be a bishop or a cardinal or a pope.  It pains our hearts when our leaders are not saints.  We expect that of them, and rightly so.

I can assure you that priests and bishops are also angry and scandalized by the horrendous behavior of clergy who abused.  We are angry, not only because of how they harmed innocent people, but also because their actions damage us.  Sometimes we are so focused on helping the laity deal with their pain that we fail to get in touch with our own hurt and anger.  But it is there.

As laity and clergy, we need to understand our anger, but also we need to find hope.  For me, the saints have always been an essential source of hope.  As Dorothy Day said, “It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”

 On October 14, a pope and a bishop will be canonized – Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador.  As we are scandalized by bishops, it is providential that the Lord brings two saintly selfless courageous bishops to our attention.  They help us to regain perspective in these troubling days.  In an encyclical on evangelization, Pope Paul VI wrote, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)

What does a witness look like?  Simple …… they are people who act like Christ.  The Christian life can be summed up in one simple goal, to be transformed into Christ.  Jesus gives us a stark description of what that looks like.

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)  We marvel at saints for their selflessness.  To be a disciple is to be a man for others, or a woman for others.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself.” 

Oscar Romero was a man for others.  He is described as the voice of the voiceless.  He spoke out forcefully for the poor of El Salvador, so forcefully that the military leaders were enraged.  He had already been threatened with death, when he gave his last Sunday homily and spoke these words – his most famous words – to the soldiers at Mass.

“Brothers, you are part of our people, and you kill your very own brothers and sisters. . . . No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God.  No one has to follow an immoral law.  It is time that you come to your senses and obey your consciences rather than sinful commands. 

The Church . . . cannot remain silent in the face of such abominations.  We want the government to take seriously the fact that reforms stained with so much blood are worthless. 

In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people who have suffered so much and whose laments cry out to heaven with greater intensity each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God:  Stop the repression!”

The next day, they shot him while he celebrated Mass.  Romero is a faithful witness because he stood up for the little people and because he followed the voice of Jesus.  He listened to the voice of God in his own heart, and acted on it, no matter what.  “Whoever loses his life my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”  Isn’t it inspiring to look at a saint who went to the cross!  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

Our hearts have been darkened because some bishops have failed miserably in their call to live selflessly like saints.  So, like Dorothy Day, we need to keep our eyes on the saints.  “It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”

And we need to be humble about our own sinfulness, our own failure to be a faithful witness.  The truth is that every one of us is a lot like Peter. He could not imagine a suffering and crucified Jesus ….. because that means a similar fate for the disciples.  It requires too much suffering.  It demands that I lose my life for God.  Like Peter, we too fail to witness by our selfishness.

Who is your favorite saint?  Remember them today.  Be inspired by their selfless love, and ask him or her to intercede for the Church.  Then ask God to transform you to be like Christ.

He makes all things well

He makes all things well

While learning how to preach, I was given this image.  Hold the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Preaching is a way of letting the Word of God speak to the struggle of our lives.  It is a time to address the issues of the day, not merely with human insight, but with God’s wisdom.

Over the last two months, I have received a ton of mail.  People have written about Bishop Hart or Archbishop McCarrick.  More recently, they wrote about the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the letter of Archbishop Viganò. Instead of newspapers, the letters helped me understand the struggles of people.  Today I hope to use the Scriptures to illumine our darkened hearts.

People identified several burning issues that they want me to address as a bishop.  After reading their letters, I have realized that there are so many issues on people’s minds that we could easily lose focus on what is most important.

We need to be wary of losing our focus on victims of sexual abuse.  I have been appalled at how rarely people mention the victims.  In their anger about these issues, often it is hard to perceive any compassion for those who have been harmed.  The greatest sadness in my heart is how people have been wounded for life.  We need to foster the healing of survivors and protect the little ones from this sinful scourge in the future.  That is the primary issue.

Yes, there are some other critical focal points.  We need to hold bishops accountable for abandoning the little ones, and change the clerical culture that enabled such abuse of power.  People have expressed disgust and anger, with good reason, over bishops and church leaders responsible for the cover up.  One person wrote, “I must pray and work to replace anger with charity if I am going to be useful in rebuilding this broken Church.  While I work on these things, I will await your reply.”

 Therefore, an independent investigation must be conducted by the laity.  Cardinal DiNardo already proposed this, as did the National Review Board who stated, “The episcopacy needs to be held accountable for these past actions, . . . for being complicit, either directly or indirectly, in the sexual abuse of the vulnerable. . . . The only way to ensure the independence of such a review is to entrust this to the laity.”

 The investigation needs to go all the way to the top so that justice is done.  But we need to be patient and prudent.  Some have already reached hasty conclusions without proper investigations.  We need to allow for due process and seek justice with impartial and thorough fact-finding.  Everyone involved needs to be investigated, but we need to be patient.  It is more prudent to wait patiently in silence for the truth to be revealed.

There are other highly important issues that will need attention, but for now I propose that we focus our attention on these areas:

  • Fostering the healing of victims of sexual abuse.
  • Protecting the little ones from this sinful scourge in the future.
  • Holding bishops accountable by way of a thorough investigation.
  • Addressing the clerical culture that enabled such abuse of power.

What do the Scriptures teach us as we face such horrible sins?  Pope Francis says that these are crimes that “cry to heaven.”  What does God say to us in the face of such suffering?

First of all, he speaks to the victims.  He says to them, “I hurt with you.”  In the gospel, “Jesus groaned” when they brought him the deaf man w/a speech impediment (Mark 7:34).  Other times as Jesus heals people, he looks on them with deep compassion – the Greek verb is splanknizomai.  It means that his stomach churned with pity for the broken.  That seems to be the sense of his groan as he prays over the deaf man.    He hurts with him.  He groaned in his desire to heal him.

So one lesson is that victims should know that Jesus groans in prayer for them.  And he wants us to groan in prayer for them.  We need to tell them, “I hurt with you.” 

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a woman who was abused as a little girl by her dad, then as a teenager by the youth minister at church.  She wrote this, “No matter how many years span between abuse and the justice that follows, the only theme I ever find perpetuating in my mind is that all a victim needs is a defender.  A person who truly sees them, and holds space alongside of them, whether it is through the suffering or through the rising.  Countless times in my life, I’ve wished that I just had a person – anyone – to talk to about what has happened and help me keep my eyes on the good.”

 She said, “All a victim needs is a defender.  A person who truly sees them, and holds space alongside of them.”  Survivors of sexual abuse need people who will stand alongside of them and hurt with them and groan in prayer to God for them.

First of all, bishops need to do this.  Bishops failed to listen to victims and stand alongside of them.  This is an area of conversion.  “We abandoned the little ones,” Pope Francis said.  The whole Church needs to do this, and it will make our Church whole.  Healing is central to our mission.  Some estimate that more than 75% of Jesus ministry was dedicated to healing.

One lady asked that I begin a “comprehensive healing ministry to the sexually abused among us.”  She said that she identified herself as a “survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a family member.”  She wrote, “Please do not pray only, but take action and influence the actions of the Church that can heal, minister to and bind the wounds of the shamed.”

What if in 20 years, people were flocking to the Catholic Church because we were a place of healing for the abused? Pope Francis said that the Church is a “field hospital.”  He said, “This is the mission of the Church:  the Church heals, it cures. . . . there are many wounded!  So many people need their wounds healed!  This is the mission of the Church:  to heal the wounds of the heart.”  How can we use our energy to focus it on healing the survivors of sexual abuse?

Jesus was in pagan territory when he healed the deaf man.  Anyone can come to him for healing.  He does not limit his healing power to the faithful, to those who come to Sunday Mass.  He healed the deaf man is in the decapolis, west of Israel.

That means that it was the non-believers who “begged Jesus to lay his hand on him” (Mark 7:32).  He responds to anyone who calls out.  Do we pray with that kind of confidence in Jesus?  Do we invite anyone to come here for healing?  This week at St. Mary’s Cathedral, we are having Mercy Night, which will be a healing service.  Invite someone here who needs to experience healing.  Anyone is welcome.  They do not need to be regular church goers.

By ourselves, we cannot make things right.  We need to stand before God as beggars who look to him alone for new life.  When Jesus healed the deaf man, the people said, “He has done all things well.  He makes even the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”  Their reaction takes us back to Genesis.  In the creation story, it says, “God looked at everything he had made and he found it very good” (Gen. 1:31), which could be translated as “exceedingly good, beautiful or healthy.”  So Jesus restores creation to its original goodness.

The Scriptures remind us that God can make us whole and beautiful again when we feel totally ruined.  In the Word of the Gospel, we encounter Christ who restores us to Original Goodness.  Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah,“Say to those whose hearts are frightened:  Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”  

If you are thinking that the sky is falling, that we are in an irreparable place in the Church, then you have lost touch with the healing power of Christ.  If you are feeling like we are in a total crisis, then you have lost sight of God’s power to do all things.  Then you are stuck in grief of human sin and in disgust of our atrocious crimes…… but you are not living with faith in the crucified and risen Lord, who used the betrayal of Judas to conquer the darkness of evil.

The Gospel reminds us that the Lord Jesus has power to make all things well.  Today, pray for the Lord to touch your heart with his healing power.  Then, ask the Lord. “How do you want me to be involved in your healing ministry in your Church?” 

Just the Facts

Just the Facts

Many who are older might remember the TV show ‘Dragnet’ with Sgt. Joe Friday who interviewed people by saying, “Just the facts.”  That line has come to my mind as I have read the torrent of commentary on clergy sexual abuse.  So many writers are so poorly informed.  Much of what has been written is far from the facts, and some are positing conclusions which are ridiculous.  Maintaining a sane perspective through accurate analysis is needed more than ever.

On the one hand, the news about Archbishop McCarrick is horrendous; the Pennsylvania grand jury report is disturbing; and the letter by Archbishop Viganò was shocking.  Yet, it is not helpful to have so many people blogging about these affairs, and who are jumping to imprudent conclusions.  We do not benefit from so much drama.

In the recent article of the Wyoming Catholic Register, I offered my perspective on the situation.  See page two of the WCR (http://www.dioceseofcheyenne.org/register.html).

Also, there is an excellent article by Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., ABPP which is titled “Separating Facts About Clergy Abuse From Fiction” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/do-the-right-thing/201808/separating-facts-about-clergy-abuse-fiction).  He offers a rationale for four facts:

  1. No empirical data exists that suggests that Catholic clerics sexually abuse minors at a level higher than clerics from other religious traditions or from other groups of men who have ready access and power over children (e.g., school teachers, coaches).
  2. Clerical celibacy doesn’t cause pedophilia and sexual crimes against minors.
  3. Homosexual clerics aren’t the cause of pedophilia in the Church.
  4. The Church has used best practices to deal with this issue since 2002.

I encourage you to take the time to read that article.  It offers a sane perspective in the midst of so much turbulence.  Undoubtedly, these are challenging days, but the sky is not falling.  We need to stay the course, and keep a sane perspective.