2 September 2018
Moses said to the people: ‘Now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you. You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God just as I lay them down for you. Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.” And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?’
It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created. So do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you – accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.
Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.
The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:
This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.
You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’
You must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.
These are extremely tough times for our Catholic Church today. More specifically, I am speaking about the recent sex scandal news that broke within the American Catholic diocese, this August 2018. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a Grand Jury report on one of the broadest-ever investigations into Catholic clerical sex abuse of minors in the United States. More than 300 priests have been credibly accused of child sex abuse by more than 1,000 victims, with cases known to stretch all the way back to 1947. Worldwide, Catholics have been shaking in sorrow, outrage, disbelief, and also, indignation.
With a quick web search, one can find numerous reports, commentaries and discussions arising on this news. One of the appalling ways this has divided the church is a very aggressive blame-game from various “camps”, investigative exposé on the alarming ecclesial infighting within Vatican, and many calls for pinning the proverbial tail on the donkey Pope(s) and their Secretaries of State and closest aides. Many are seeking justice for these crimes of covering up the sex abuses cases, for the playing of musical chairs of sullied priests to different Archdioceses in the US.
Yet, to all these commentaries, camps and voices, I ask this:
Where are the ears to listen gently to the victims’ stories – many of which have been smothered for decades? Where is the bleeding heart to ache with compassion for the trauma and wounds suffered by the wounded and their loved ones? The wounds inflicted by the sex predator, are subsequently further burdened by persons in power who have told them to remain silent, who would cover-up and feign peace. Now, these wounds are repeatedly being ripped apart because the scandal is actually not entirely about the ‘cover-up’ – but that they happened at all in the first place. Instead, the wounds of the wounded are not being given the proportionate space for their pain and reality.
For years, many young children, young adults, men and women, were being sexually tormented and abused by the men of God who were ordained to shepherd and guide them. Theirs are no theoretical abuse. Theirs are real human lives ripped apart by the sins of others. They are now older and aged. They and their stories deserve to be given the dignity of care. To allow the more salacious Vatican’s political scandals to overshadow this, is to further drive into obscurity the true painful stories of Mike McDonnell, Robert, Carolyn… By our priority of concerns, we may actually hinder the wounded and vulnerable from finding healing and communion with God and our community.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14).
Are we inadvertently flooding the forum with chaotic debates about the state of the Church’s politics and drowning out the cries for mercy and compassion from the wounded? Should Jesus be standing in the temple courtyard today, I imagine that he would overturn the tables and say the same: “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2:16) Some of us have been too heatedly distracted by the debates in our public fora – filling our minds with the latest news, trading opinions and commentaries. These can hinder us as a Church from truly grieving and repenting for the wounded.
Perhaps some of us are still reeling from shock and shame that our beloved Church has hidden so much filth and sin. But it is now time for us to act in spirit and with action. Let us sit with these wounded and listen to their stories; not make a spectacle of their pain. Shall we pray for and with them? We need to remember the victims and hold their pain gently in our prayers and intercessions. As the larger laity and clergy, we must seek to understand and how and where we have disabled the disenfranchised and vulnerable from speaking up. How have we casually brushed aside some curious or suspicious account by someone who was too afraid to speak bravely? If we were not able to discern well before, let us not waste time in discerning now with sincere wisdom. To ask: how can I, from here on, be part of a movement to prevent future abuses of power and the vulnerable within our community?
“Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.” (James: 1:27)
The Church must remain Christ-like through this ordeal. Us, the church laity, are Christ’s hands and feet. Only we can go places and touch lives that, at this point, are hurting and alienated from the very institution that is expected to serve and protect its flock. While we mobilise ourselves to petition for accountability and justice within the Church, we must mobilise more fervently to pray for healing and to reach out to heal each other.
I know my reflection today treads on divisive ground. But hear me out, for today’s Scripture readings speak to the heart of this great sin and debacle that is corroding our Church. Jesus speaks in no uncertain terms:
Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’ (Mark 7:15, 21-23)
“Accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.” (James 1:21-22)
Let us be rightly moved and outraged to compassionate action. If you have an hour this week, please join me in either one of these dedications: To devote a Mass for the healing and restoration of all the victims (known and unreported); to pray the Rosary to our Holy Mother to gather her children and to bind up the wounds of God’s people and the Church; to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration to sit with our Lord and to sit with our brothers and sisters as we remember the tragedy that is innocence lost, lives and relationships broken, dreams shattered. I believe that it is in thoughtfully sitting with this immense grief of our larger family, that we as Church can move forward into healing and reparation.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: We pray to our Lord and Saviour Jesus, to touch our hearts in compassion for the real wounded faces and lives among us. We seek His wisdom and His heart of justice and mercy as we navigate our understanding of righteousness and grief in this troubled history of our Church.
Thanksgiving: I thank you God for humbling me and challenging me to look into the pain and reality of those who have been wounded. I know there can be nothing greater than bringing your love and healing to them, in any way I can.