By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The demand for conversion resounds throughout the Catholic Church this Lent as we dig even deeper to uproot the evil of child sexual abuse and its accompanying demon of abuse of power by Church leadership. Although conversion or metanoia can be painfully slow whether in the life of an individual or in an institution, truth and the demand for justice and mercy compel us in this historical moment to know that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1,37). The Good News of Jesus Christ cannot be a beacon of hope for the world unless the light of the Gospel transforms the Church.
During this Lent and always I give thanks to all who have a deep love for the Church, the Body of Christ, and who want to see a season of refreshment, but who understand that this is not a matter of cheap grace, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Saint Peter in the proclamation of the Kerygma on that first Pentecost points out the way for every generation. “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment” (Acts 3,19). May we never grow weary of accompanying those who carry the unjust burden of sexual abuse experienced in our Church communities especially, but also encouraging hope and healing to those have are suffering from this scourge wherever its source.
On Ash Wednesday we were signed with the ashes of repentance, the path of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three pillars, set in the soil of the Word of God and the Eucharist, the body and blood of the Lord poured out for us, are the lamps for our feet during the sacred season of Lent, but truly, for every season of every year as a way of life. It is easy to compartmentalize these fundamentals of our faith, with a light meal on Friday, a quick prayer in the morning or a painless check made out on a Sunday. Let us thank God for those breakthrough moments in our lives that bring us to our knees, that create deep hungers, and force us to rely on the generosity of others.
When I traveled in India recently for two weeks, there were obvious signs of poverty and desperation, as you might imagine, as well as the selfless Gospel dedication of ordained, professed and lay disciples. In southern India one of the priests was recalling the immediate aftermath of the severe flooding last year. Rich and poor were washed out their homes and forced to find temporary housing, together. Some of the wealthy were ashamed of this sudden deprivation and hid behind the screens in the daily distribution of the bread hoping to go unnoticed. Gradually, they came out of isolation and today are some of the largest benefactors toward the ministry of serving the abandoned. Often, it takes a crisis to unshackle a deeper experience of our common humanity which the veneer of social strata too easily obscure.
Each of us have our favorite scripture passages that can keep us on the path for the spiritual marathon ahead. Two verses in particular speak to my heart as well as to the heart of the Church in our day. Saint Paul encourages us in our Lenten discipline as he encouraged Timothy. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord.” (2Timothy 1,7-8). Each of us as individuals and families can apply the three pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving at work in Saint Paul’s words.
Also, as a Church, with Saint Paul, we know that we are at the service of God’s Kingdom in this world. “So do not let your good be reviled. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others. Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another.” (Romans 14, 16-19) In this spirit we can rebuild the household of God, the Church, in the midst of crisis, and for all godly reasons in order to remove the blindness of sin. I end with the words of Pope Francis from his 2017 Lenten message.
“Dear friends, Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the 40 days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favor the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.”
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz