My Place in the Sun, August 9: Always in Need of Conversion

My place in the sunBishop Robert J. Cunningham

   “Love should, of course, be our only reaction to our Mother the Church; yet in fact there are many temptations which trouble us with regard to her. Some are clear enough, and violent; others are less clear, and all the more insidious. There are some that are perennial, and some that are peculiar to our time, and they are all too varied — even to the point of mutual opposition — for anyone of us ever to think himself sheltered from the threat which they constitute.”

During the past few weeks, the above quotation from Henri de Lubac’s book, The Splendor of the Church, has been at the forefront of my prayer and thought in these troubled times. The words, written long ago, begin a chapter titled, “Our Temptations Concerning the Church.

   The allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, the publicity surrounding the long-awaited grand jury report in Pennsylvania, recurring stories about priests who have sinned through the abuse of children and young people weigh heavily on me and all who are concerned for the safety and well-being of the human person, especially the most vulnerable and innocent among us.

   As I read these stories in the newspaper; as I watch the evening news; as I hear firsthand stories of crimes committed against children and young people, I am disheartened and discouraged. With you, I wonder, “What more will we hear in the coming days and months?”

   In times such as these, we need to remember that sanctity is not common. Recall the humble words of Pope Francis, shortly after his election as Pope, when a journalist asked him, “Who is Jorge Bergolio?” His response was, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner. . . . Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

   There is no doubt that from the beginning of the Church, sin has been present in the person of her members. In recent days, we have become painfully aware that those meant to shepherd and guide others are sinners not only in the sense that all are fallible but also specifically in the area of the sexual abuse of children and young people. They must be held accountable for their actions. Bishops are no exception.

   The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council acknowledged the need for the Church to be aware of its sojourning nature here on earth. “While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal” (8).

   Recent events and reports may tempt us to think that the Church has failed us. However, it is not the Church that has failed us. It is fallible human beings within the Church, even those from whom we expect the most authentic witness to goodness and holiness, who have failed us. Henri de Lubac expressed it well. “Christ wished His Bride to be perfect, holy and without spot; but she is this only in principle” (The Splendor of the Church).

   I ask you to pray for all victims of sexual abuse. May they experience the healing embrace of God’s love and mercy. Pray for bishops and priests who are the special instruments of God’s mercy. Although some have failed in their ministry by overt sexual abuse of others or by closing a blind eye to this sin, many serve faithfully, fully aware of their own weakness yet confident of God’s grace. Let us pray also for each other. We are a pilgrim people, following the path of Jesus. May we keep our eyes fixed on Him as He leads us to the end of our earthly sojourn.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.