Homily for the Perpetual Day of Remembrance

“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others”, Paul tells the Church of Rome in our Second Reading today.

It is a reality, a truth, that the Church of Maitland-Newcastle – that we – have learnt over the last twenty-five years or more, and a reality and a truth that we need to hold in our present each and every day.

On this Perpetual Day of Remembrance, we, as Church, are called to remember those of our brothers and sisters who have been harmed – abused – by some members of our Church, and who were further harmed by the callous disregard of others who placed the reputation of the Church above the lives and safety of innocents.

We have had the light of truth, the light of Christ, shone into some very dark corners through the offices of commissions of inquiry, criminal trials, and the brave testimony of survivors. We have been confronted with irrefutable evidence of actions perpetrated by members of the Church – some of whom we may have previously admired – and we have heard of the enduring cost to survivors who live with the impact of their abuse on a daily basis.

We have heard the stories of those who support their loved ones living with the aftermath of abuse, and who suffer alongside them each and every day.

We have also heard the stories of those who could not endure and who have chosen their own time of encounter with a merciful God.

The stories of those who have been abused and harmed, the stories of those who walk that journey with survivors, the stories of those who have had their innocence stolen, had a direct influence on us.

Their pain, their anger, their loss should and must spur us on to change, to a conversion of heart and mind.

This task, of course, is not something Christians should be afraid of; conversion is at the very heart of what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. The difference now, however, is that the conversion we are called to is not just a personal one, but a conversion of the whole Church.

And the conversion we are called to is about recognising that crimes have been committed, that harm was compounded by a callous disregard for the victims and survivors of abuse, that victims and survivors were not believed when they were brave enough to come forward.

The conversion we are called to is about ensuring that those who have been harmed are supported and assisted, that we face the truth of our past with honesty, that we commit ourselves to ensuring that we do all that we can to make our Church, our communities, places where children and the vulnerable are safe.

We cannot change the past, nor can we ignore it. We cannot pretend that some members of our Church did not abuse children, nor can we abrogate our responsibility to provide redress in ways that are meaningful.

We can, and we must, do all in our power to ensure that the story of our Church’s past is not repeated in our present or our future, that we listen to victims and survivors of the past, and that we listen to the children of today in ways that we failed to do in the past.

The conversion required of the Church – of us – is to realign ourselves with the teachings of Jesus, to acknowledge our failures and seek forgiveness, and to demonstrate our commitment to survivors and victims. Only when we can do that, only we can likewise say that the safety of our children and our vulnerable are priorities, can we say that we walk in the light of Christ.

This Perpetual Day of Remembrance is part of how we can go about that task of conversion. But it is not just about this day. The real change will be seen in how we value our children and our vulnerable, how we address the shameful parts of our history, how we support those who have been harmed and abused, and how we ensure that our future life focuses not on the reputation of the Church but on the safety of its members – on the safety of all its members and not just a privileged elite.

Our task of conversion, however, is not a once-off activity. It is not as simple as just putting safeguarding measures in place and complying with externally set standards, of having robust policies and procedures. At the very heart of the task of conversion is the perpetual commitment to remember what was so that we never again slip back, that we change our hearts and minds not just our external practices.

The New Pelagians

Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love. This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the last among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ.

Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rule, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilised… or corrupt.

Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate (Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), nn. 57-58

Surrendering Control

When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.

Pope Francis Gaudete et Exsultate (Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), n. 41

Each In His Or Her Own Way

We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.

Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate (Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), n. 11.

In Search of the Champion Bishop

This best describes a “champion” model of pastoral leadership. Many Catholics today, including myself, prefer to sit on the sidelines of social media and put our collective support, “likes,” and retweets behind those bishops who are outspoken in opposing our political and cultural enemies. We rally behind bishops who speak truth to power and put their reputations and careers on the line in order to give the laity the sense that they have a dog in the fight. We’re not really looking to bishops to help or teach us; in fact, it increasingly appears we don’t want to actually learn anything from the bishops. Instead, we want the bishops to be on the vanguard so we can play the part of the barrier guard, shooting down anyone who dares to abandon their post. We want bishops who seem larger than life and serve as avatars of divine wrath battling the forces of Satan on Earth. Their humanity looks pathetically frail in contrast.

The champion bishop model, of course, is an understanding that gets Church teaching completely backward. The bishops are not politicians or policymakers. They do not have more than one vote nor are they talking with our friends and neighbors about the Good News. They are not confronting the casual racism we see in our workplaces nor feeding the homeless we come across in our daily lives. They aren’t teaching our children or reforming parish ministries. They can’t make that difficult call to our estranged family member for us nor are they pressuring companies in our investment portfolios to be more supportive of working families. We expect our bishops to do the heavy lifting, but when it comes to “doing” what Jesus asks, we often find ourselves passing the buck. The laity is responsible for this failure. 

Not An Epoch of Change, But A Change of Epoch

The Working Document of the Bishops’ Synod on the Amazon broke new ground in offering a different vision for the process of liturgical inculturation reflected in the final document of the synod. It challenged the absolute need for the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, opening the door to a process of inculturation that is “from the bottom up” rather than from the “top down.” Rather than the timid and defensive stance taken by previous documents of the magisterium, this document, inspired by the pastoral approach of Pope Francis, responded to the real need to make the gospel message more accessible in the liturgy, especially to people belonging to non-Western cultures. We now await Pope Francis’s traditional post-synodal exhortation to see how this challenge for more profound inculturation will be integrated into the life of the Amazonian Church.

Mark Francis, CSV, “The Synod on the Amazon and Liturgical Inculturation”, Worship 94, no. 2 (April 2020): 152-153.

Some News

It may come as a bit of a surprise to some, but I have decided to move away from updating my WordPress site – doohan.id.au – in favour of making my Facebook account the primary means of sharing my book reviews, my homilies, and my occasional other offerings.

I am not, however, abandoning doohan.id.au completely. This will remain the place where I write longer form articles and reflections, but which will then be shared to Facebook. The website will also serve as an ‘online archive’ of my past offerings, searchable using the option to the side.

If you would like to stay up to date with things I am thinking and writing about, you’ll now have to go to my Facebook account. I hope to see you there at some point…

Review: Catholicism in the Time of Coronavirus

Catholicism in the time of coronavirusCatholicism in the time of coronavirus by Stephen Bullivant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although written from the particular perspectives of the United States and the United Kingdom, and therefore directly applicable to the Australian context, I’m very glad that someone has given some thought to the response and challenges facing the Catholic Church during and after the time of the COVID-19 pandemic event. I wouldn’t agree with everything that Stephen Bullivant has written – in fact, in some points I believe he has missed the mark completely – it was good to have something with which to engage, and therefore to stimulate my own thinking.

From that perspective, this is a good book, and one worth reading at this time in society’s life.

View all my reviews