A HOMILY PREACHED ON APRIL 18, 2010, the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER AND THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ELECTION OF BENEDICT XVI
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI as Christ’s Vicar of the
Universal Church. It is appropriate that the Gospel reading today has Christ commissioning Simon Peter, the rock on which the Church is built, to feed his sheep. This anniversary is an occasion to thank God for the the Pope and his special ministry in the Church, and pray that the Lord grant him many more years of faithful service as the earthly head of the Church.
However, the joy of this anniversary is marred by the reports of the great injustice and harm done to minors by some members of the clergy, by those who should have been sacrificing themselves for the good of Christ’s little ones. As the Holy Father rightly states in his pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, the perpetrators of these crimes should have been and should be brought to justice.
Secondly, we have discovered that some of those in authority have failed to protect the vulnerable. Those bishops made grave errors of judgement and failed to use their authority by not removing from ministry the perpetrators of these crimes, as the Pope also points out in his pastoral letter.
As members of the Church, all of us are angered, dismayed and ashamed that fellow Christians, fellow members of the Body of Christ would commit such dastardly acts and betrayal. The crimes of some of the members of the clergy reflect very badly on the whole Church, wound her, and compromise her role in the world of bringing others to know the love of God for humankind.
How do we, as members of the Church, cope with all of this? Can we turn to the Word of God for guidance? There is a parable that Jesus taught in the Gospel of Matthew which offers us some insight.
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ Matt 13.24-30.
The field can also apply to the present Church, both now and at the time of the Apostles. The weeds that are growing up along with the wheat in the field can stand for those members of the Church who do evil. From the Scriptures themselves, we learn that right from the beginning of the Church, there have been Christians guilty of terrible things. Even with the Apostles specially chosen by the Lord, it was one of them who was the betrayer. There has been and always will be members of the Church who will do evil acts. This is not an excuse, but a statement of fact. By this parable, Jesus makes clear that they will have to answer before God Himself for what they have done. We might wonder why God would allow such things to happen. We know that He does not will that evil take place, nor is He the author of evil. The Lord has given free will to mankind so that we might choose the good. However, this gift of free will also allows us the possibility to choose evil.
What should our personal response be to this situation. We must pray for the victims, who have undergone such great harm. We need to do penance for the good of and on behalf of the Church. Perhaps the most difficult thing to do is to find it in our heart to forgive the perpetrators and those who enabled them. We cannot let the anger that rises within to turn our hearts towards bitterness and hatred. Mercy and forgiveness is an essential element of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it cannot be lacking in these instances also.
Although some members of the media have gone overboard in their commenting and speculating on this issue, yet, overall, the exposure of these crimes is a good thing. Hopefully, the Church’s preventative actions encouraged by all the publicity will ensure that these crimes will not happen again.
There is another Scripture passage that applies to this situation, where Saint Paul writes:
“…all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8.28).
Notice Saint Paul doesn’t say, “all good things” or “only good things” work for the good for those who love God. “All things” includes even the bad things. God, in his mysterious way, can draw some good out a totally sinful and bad situation. Hopefully we all have seen this happen in our own lives when tragedy has stuck us. Some good that can come out our current situation could be as greater diligence in the future and a purification within the Church. We are challenged to place our trust and faith in God alone. We cannot let our love of and adherence to God’s Church be based upon the good or bad behaviours of individuals in the Church, even if they be bishops and priests.
We are called to show charity to the victims especially through our prayer on their behalf. Finding forgiveness in our hearts for the perpetrators is a challenge, and we need also to pray for ourselves that we can truly forgive them for the damage they have done to individuals and the Church.
Of course we know that our Lord has shared in the suffering of the victims and identifies with the downtrodden. He says:
…just as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me… and …just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. (Matthew 25.44,49)
He carried the sins of the whole world with the Cross to Calvary. Imagine how the pain of these particular sins must have weighed on his heart. We too are called to share in these sufferings and join ourselves with Jesus’ self offering. We can say along with Saint Paul:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.. (Colossians 1.24)
At every Mass, the Pashcal Mystery, that is, the suffering, death, and rising of Jesus is re-presented to us so that we too might enter in once again and join with Christ in his offering to the Father. Let us ask the same Holy Spirit, who changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, transform our lives also so that, having shared in the sacrifice of Christ, we may bring the love of God to a broken world.