National Catholic Reporter
Thomas Gumbleton | Jan. 31, 2014 The Peace Pulpit
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalms 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Full text of the readings
As we begin this account in Matthew’s Gospel of the public life of Jesus, at the very beginning, we are challenged directly by Jesus: “Change your lives, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand — change your lives.” The word is one that means a profound reordering of our lives — a 180-degree turn, a change in our value systems. The reign of God or the kingdom of heaven — this is something that Jesus is beginning to proclaim.
It’s important that we get a sense of what Jesus means by this kingdom of heaven. First of all, it has nothing to do with the afterlife. We might think, “The kingdom of heaven — that’s where we go after we die.” No; what it refers to is the reign of God, the reign of God throughout all of creation — on our planet, on our earth, in our lives. It refers to God working effectively in our everyday lives right here and now. …
If there’s been an offense against another, we go first and be reconciled. What I’m referring to is something that became very prominent in the news this week. It was reported on national news that the Chicago archdiocese, because of court order, released the personnel files on priests who had abused victims. Over the decades, these priests have been sheltered and then moved from one parish to another, and for a long time, never really held accountable.
Now finally, the files come out, and it’s clear that the bishops were much more concerned about protecting the good name of the church, preventing what they call scandal. They did such things as recently as the year 2000. Cardinal [Francis] George wrote a letter to a priest in prison whose prison sentence he was seeking to reduce, and he writes, “It would be a great fulfillment of the millennium spirit to see your captive heart set free.”
The cardinal was saying how marvelous it would be if this priest would be released from jail. But there’s no letter to the victim. There’s no letter going to the victim, saying, “Yes, we need to be reconciled and go and be reconciled,” with the perpetrator coming, admitting the guilt, and asking forgiveness. The victims in these cases have just been ignored. Further back, a priest wrote to Cardinal [Joseph] Bernardin from jail, “How full of shame I feel for having betrayed you and the archdiocese.”
No shame or sense of having to make reconciliation with the person whom he abused or the many people he abused. There’s been a big gap in what is happening in the church and what Pope John Paul II called, “A cancer on the body of Christ” — the sex abuse scandal. We still haven’t gotten to the real way and the only way that this healing could take place. The victims or survivors are still treated as though they’re adversaries.
People still say they only want the money. They don’t recognize these are people who have been profoundly hurt, who have been denied the real acceptance of what they say happened to them. The priests deny it, the bishops hide it, and even if the person tries to forgive, there’s no one there to receive the forgiveness. There can’t be reconciliation until the one who has perpetrated the harm comes, as Jesus says in the Gospel, “Go first and be reconciled with your brother or sister, then come and offer your gift.”
We have failed in this terrible cancer on the body of the church — failed to bring about the healing that is still so much needed for the thousands of people around the world who have been abused and then denied a real chance for reconciliation, not recognized as the ones who have been hurt. My thought is that we, as a community of people, followers of Jesus, trying to change our lives and live the gospel of love, must do what we can first of all, in changing our lives to live out that commandment of Jesus — love one another as I have loved you — and spelled out in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
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