Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the First Sunday of Lent, 17 February 2013
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of the First Sunday of Lent, Year C, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 17 February 2013
It is with great joy that I welcome you all to this Mass at the beginning of Lent. Concelebrating with me today are St Patrick’s Cathedral Dean, Fr John McSweeney, and the Rector of our Seminary of the Holy Spirit, Fr John Hogan. I am pleased to announce that the seminary is doing so well we are having to move into larger and more permanent premises. If anyone here would like to help pay for that, please contact me, as seminarians eat a lot!
Leading our big-eaters today is my deacon today, John Paul Escarlan, and with him Pio Jang, Thomas Bui and Vincent Phan are our four seniors. Our four now-middling seminarians are Jack Green, Chris del Rosario, Paul Griffin and Joe Murphy. And our four newcomers this past month are Edward Safadi, Seth Harsh, Kennedy Anyanwu and Andrew Rooney. We congratulate and thank you men for your generosity of spirit in allowing yourselves, like Christ in today’s Gospel, to be led by the Spirit. I hope your seminary days will not be too much like His time in the desert, but a time of trial they properly are in some ways. This will, we pray, be the making of you, as holy and faithful priests of Jesus Christ and servants of His holy people. You are a particular sign of hope for us in a time of challenge, a challenge addressed this week in Sowing in Tears, the Lenten Pastoral Letter of the NSW Bishops on the issue of child sexual abuse, to which I will return in my homily.
This week we also received the sad news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI for reasons of health. We give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of Pope Benedict as our Holy Father these past eight years and to the Holy Father himself for giving his all as Successor of Peter. He is for us the Pope of World Youth Day in Sydney and of the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, our diocesan patron. This teacher pope, through his many books, catecheses and homilies, articulated a deep Catholic faith cultivated as much on his knees in the Sacred Liturgy as at his desk with his books. We pray at this time for the Church, for wise, holy and courageous leadership, and especially for Australia’s elector, Cardinal George Pell, and the other cardinals, who must choose a new Pope for us.
Christmas seems barely past and here we are in Lent. I don’t know what you have decided to give up for Lent – chocolate, alcohol, Facebook? But I hope you haven’t already broken your Ash Wednesday resolution! The beginning of Lent always risks being a time of resolutions to change, followed by backsliding and making all sorts of exceptions for ourselves …
No wonder, then, that Lent words are ‘re’ words: re-pent, re-turn, re-cover, re-pair, re-new. We are all called to repentance, not just the great sinners, because all are affected when any member is sinful or suffering. The Body of Christ is wounded.
Yet for all the bruised purple, Lent is a season of hope. It ends not with death but with rising from the dead.
It’s against that backdrop that the NSW Bishops have just issued Sowing in Tears, a pastoral letter on the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse and the issues that have led to it. The terms of reference recognise that children deserve a safe and happy childhood and that institutions such as the Church can help that. But children have sometimes been violated by those supposed to care for them and leaders have sometimes failed to respond adequately.
We must not put our heads in the sand about any of this or try to explain it away. The fact is that our own Diocese has known cases of child abuse. Even if many are ‘historic’ cases, and even if we have improved the way we respond, the damage has been done and there is a public perception that the Church has not addressed the issue adequately. This has, in turn, damaged the credibility and mission of the Church. So the Royal Commission is to be welcomed as an opportunity for victims to obtain a fair hearing, for processes within institutions to be scrutinised, and for the whole community to understand abuse better and find ways forward. The Church has established a Truth, Justice and Healing Council to assist the Royal Commission.
There are three things we should keep in mind as this progresses. First, these terrible sins and crimes, and their mishandling by Church authorities, have done great damage to the victims and their families. Here I make my own the historic apology Pope Benedict made during World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. He acknowledged the shame we’ve all felt as a result of the abuse of minors by some clergy and religious. He said he was deeply sorry for this grave betrayal and the pain and suffering it has caused the victims. He urged us to work together to ensure that victims receive compassion and care, perpetrators are brought to justice and all young people enjoy a safe environment. So we must listen to people’s hurt and respond with humility and compassion. We must continue to proclaim the preciousness of every young person and to insist that all abuse is contrary to the laws of God, the Church and the state. We must repent where there has been institutional failure and resolve to do better in the future.
Secondly, child abuse is not the whole story of the Church – far from it. The Catholic Church has long played an important role in our society. Holy priests and religious have worked tirelessly for the glory of God and the good of their people. Vast numbers of people are supported by the Church’s activities in parish life, education, welfare, healthcare, ministry to young people and migrants, aged care, service to the poor and marginalised. Young people of our Diocese of Parramatta are very engaged in some of these works. There is deep faith and compassion amongst our people of all ages. We should not lose sight of this amidst the current consciousness of failures.
Thirdly, the current crisis is an opportunity for purification of the Church. We must review past performance and examine the whys and wherefores. We must pray and do penance. We must improve our act on many levels. So, I join the other Bishops of NSW in calling for prayer for the following intentions: the success of the Royal Commission; justice and healing of victims; wisdom and compassion for leaders and carers; repentance by perpetrators; grace for those tempted to lose faith or hope; safety for all young people; and consolation for all those affected.
This Lent and beyond we must recognise that spiritual and moral failures of some members of our Church demand a spiritual and moral response from us all. In their pastoral letter the Bishops list a number of ideas on how we might do this.
I undertake as your Bishop, in addition to my daily prayers, to engage in an hour of Eucharistic adoration each Friday and invite our clergy and religious to do likewise. I ask you to consider joining us, by regular participation in Mass and Confession, frequent, worthy reception of the Eucharist, and prayerful reading of Holy Scripture. One simple response would be to pray daily the Hail Holy Queen as both abuse victims and the Church pass through this ‘vale of tears’. We will also have periodic prayers of the faithful in Mass for these intentions. Together we might also engage in some penance, such as Friday abstinence from meat, for these intentions. Wounds in the Body of Christ, even ones for which we are not personally responsible, will only be healed by our cooperation with God’s grace in acts such as these.
Lent began with the Prophet Joel declaring: “Before the altar let the priests lament. Let them say: Spare your people, Lord! Do not make your heritage a thing of shame.” Faithful priests, religious and lay leaders risk being ashamed and demoralised by present troubles and they need our prayers and support at this time.
The Royal Commission will enable some people to raise at last issues from their past. I encourage all victims of abuse to contact the police. Assistance is also available from the Diocese. The Bishops recommit themselves and their dioceses to justice and compassion for victims and their families, to full co-operation with the Royal Commission and all relevant authorities, and to re-examining all our internal processes to ensure they are the best.
Our Sunday Gospel recalls Jesus’ 40 days of trials in the desert. In Lent the Church is united to His struggle by 40 days of fasting, prayer and charity, hoping thereby to join Him in His victory over sin, death and the devil. By our own sacrifices we join in Christ’s com-passion, His passion-with victims in their suffering. By so doing we can be in solidarity, however inadequately, with ‘the little ones’ who have been damaged and with Christ who died for their healing and ours.Though the Church in Australia will weep through the course of the Royal Commission, it is my prayer that she will emerge humbler and holier. After the desert comes living springs, after pruning new growth, after the cross comes resurrection. This is our paschal hope. Last night I celebrated Mass here for a veritable Oasis of young people launching an album of Christian music giving praise to God. Today I am accompanied by 12 fine young seminarians. This afternoon I will conduct the Rite of Election for people seeking Baptism at Easter. All of these are signs of hope for a better future for our Church. As the psalmist promises: those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap!
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