Homily for October 2018 Holy Hour
Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-12a
Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
1 John 1:5-2:2
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
In the days of Ezekiel many shepherds were more concerned about their own wants than taking care of the flock that God had entrusted to them. They were doing nothing to strengthen the weak or heal the sick. They did not nothing to gather the lost. They were not doing the very task that God appointed them to.
God’s response was to shepherd his people himself.
This wasn’t the first time those appointed to shepherd the Lord’s people didn’t live up the task and it certainly wasn’t the last. Sometimes it was out of greed, power, or self-righteousness.
Today we face a crisis involving leadership in the church. Certainly, it is centered on the clergy abuse scandal. For those who did the abusing, they followed their earthly desires instead of seeking chastity.
For those involved in the coverup, some were following the advice of psychologists of the time. Others were trying to avoid scandal. Unfortunately, they may have been more concerned with image than truly dealing with the problem.
Nothing excuses the abuse in any way and the coverup but how do we move forward today?
Certainly, policies on how to handle accusations of abuse need to change and in many ways they have. There is still work to be done on the bishops’ level.
It’s going to require God’s help to move forward. God has been “our help in ages past” and God is “our hope for years to come.”
To receive God’s help, we need to acknowledge our sin. We see this is Psalm 51, “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” To be cleansed of our sins we must first admit our sins.
God is perfect. Human beings are not. In tonight’s second reading John writes, “If we say, “We have fellowship with God,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth.” We need to bring light to the situation. Hence the call for transparency in the handling of abuse.
Only then can we move forward. The other part of moving forward is forgiveness. Some of you attended the hour-long presentation on forgiveness I did recently. I won’t go into all that I said that night. Forgiveness does not mean we forget or deny what has happened. It doesn’t take away consequences of sin. It is about mercy.
Here I turn to the story of the prodigal son. Interpretations of this story often center on the younger son’s sins. We need to recognize there are three people in this story.
There is the younger son who takes his inheritance and lives a life of dissipation until he hits bottom. After he hit bottom, he realizes his “sin” and goes back to his father, not expecting to be forgiving. He only seeks a job with a just wage.
The second person is the father who forgives. Even when his younger son is still far off, he runs to him as soon as he begins to return. (When we repent, God comes running to our side).
The third person is the older son. When he sees his brother has returned and their father is throwing a party, he is jealous.
God wants to help the Church. After all, it is his Church.
God wants to help us as individuals. After all, we are his children.
Who are you in the story?
Are you the younger son who has sinned? Have you confessed your sins and asked God to help you change?
Are you the one who is forgiving?
Are you the older son who is jealous when someone else is forgiven?
The reality is probably that at different times in our lives, we have been each of the three. At times, we are in need of forgiveness. At other times, we offer forgiveness. At still other times, there might be someone we think shouldn’t be forgiven.
You might be wondering where I am going with this in terms of the clergy abuse scandal. I am too. I’m not quite sure myself. I know that we need to admit our sins and ask God to lead us to be where we are supposed to be as individuals and as a Church.
For now, we pray for God’s help. Our prayers might include asking for the intercession of the saints, like St. Maria Goretti who died rather than give up her chastity. There is St. Augustine who lived with a woman without marrying her and had a son but underwent conversion. I just learned about a 19th century saint, St. Mary MacKillop, from Australia who reported allegations of abuse of a child by a priest. In controversy with the local bishop, she was excommunicated but he lifted that excommunication before his death. Now she is a saint.
God is “our help in ages past” and “our hope for years to come.”