Christ: the Source of True Healing

By Paul S. Loverde
Herald [Arlington VA]
July 8, 2004

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Mass for the Healing of Victims of Sexual Abuse at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington on June 30.

Words are never enough, but sometimes, words are all we have, or, at least sometimes, we must begin with words.

The first words I wish to speak tonight are to victims and their families. "I am sorry" profoundly sorry for the terrible pain you have experienced because of sexual abuse. It is a pain which lingers in the lives of those who have been abused. I am sorry deeply sorry that you endured such abuse because someone you trusted implicitly betrayed you whether that was a priest or a deacon or someone else representing the Church or it was another trusted person. I try to imagine how devastating such an experience must be, but I realize that I can never fully imagine what you have experienced. Yes, I am sorry and I apologize with all my heart for the pain and hurt inflicted upon you as a result of this abuse. Victims in a particular way continue to suffer, but so do the family members and friends, and also so many members of the Church. We are all connected, one to the other, so we all struggle with a whole range of conflicting emotions, including hurt, anger, rage and even the desire for revenge.

The second words I speak are also to victims and their families. In the name of any one who has abused you, especially if they are representatives of the Church a priest or deacon or religious sister or brother or volunteer, "I ask you to forgive us." Forgive us for not acting more responsibly in the face of such abuse. Forgive us for not seeing more deeply and fully the horrendous evil such abuse is and does. Forgive us even as we seek to do all that we can now and in the future to wipe out such terrible sexual abuse of children and young people. Let me assure you, that along with my staff, especially our victim assistance coordinator and the members of our review and advisory boards, I am personally committed to continuing our efforts to implement the Charter we bishops enacted in June 2002.

Yes, we ask to be forgiven, longing to hear those words, from you, "I forgive you." To forgive is not to excuse the evil or to pretend that something terribly harmful and wrong did not happen. Actually, to forgive necessarily implies that something wrong and evil did occur, and in addition, that we are willing to get beyond the pain and the hurt, imitating Jesus, Who prayed as He was being unjustly nailed to the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

The third words I speak are words which victims may truly wish to say. "I want to be healed." We are gathered here tonight, not only to express our sorrow and our desire to be forgiven, but also to pray with all that is in us for healing for you, victims of child sexual abuse, and for your families. The pain and hurt you are experiencing does not go away easily or quickly. Your self-esteem has been dealt a severe blow and your ability to trust likewise. You may also be experiencing severe depression or, in an effort to escape deep pain and hurt, have turned to substance abuse or other forms of destructive behavior. We so desire that you will experience healing and a new beginning. We carry you in our prayers to the Lord and ask Him to heal you as He alone can.

Like the younger son in today's Gospel, you have felt abandoned and forgotten; you have touched bottom the lowest point. We are praying that you will be enabled to experience new hope as you receive that healing only the Lord can give. We are praying that you will be reconciled to yourself within, to those from whom you have felt estranged through no fault of yours, and to our God, Who is the Father in the parable, full of compassion, mercy and love, Who longs for you to be back home, to be rejoined to the family circle, to be reconciled.

The final words I speak are words we all can say. "I long to be reconciled." Yes, we who have failed the victims and their families and have therefore sinned, and we who have remained faithful but feel so incapable of forgiving those who abused our children and are therefore sinning in a different way, we are all in need of the Father's compassion and mercy; we are all in need of divine forgiveness. And as we receive God's forgiveness, we do so only on the condition that we pass it on. So, in turn, we must be instruments of forgiveness and healing, of new hope and a fresh beginning.

This Mass for healing is being celebrated on the last day of June, that month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The heart of Christ is the symbol of His unconditional love, of His faithful mercy and unfailing compassion. The heart of Christ is the source of true healing, of enduring hope and of persevering strength. With the transforming grace which Jesus gives us and through the help provided by competent counseling, we can be open to that healing which comes straight from the heart of Christ. Ours must be the prayer which St. Claude la Colombiere prayed often: "Divine Lord, I wish to dwell in your heart and there to lose whatever of gall and bitterness there is in mine."

Yes, words are never enough, but when joined to the Incarnate Word, our words acquire new meaning and significance. We say: "Forgive me and heal me!" He replies: "In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you." And He adds: "Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain!"


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