BY DANIEL ANG
While the past weeks have been dominated by the news of Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden resignation, more immediate to our experience was the onset of Lent, a season of purification and renewal.
On their part, the Bishops of NSW issued a Pastoral Letter which underlined the Church’s especial need of repentance and conversion in the midst of the scandal of sexual abuse and an impending Royal Commission.
It is a frank and encouraging letter, entitled Sowing in Tears (adopted from Psalm 125), and includes a call to prayer – for the success of the Royal Commission, justice and healing for victims, wisdom and compassion for leaders and carers, repentance by perpetrators, grace for those tempted to lose faith or hope, the safety of all young people and consolation for all the affected.
A long and wintry season has only just begun for Catholics who still hold the Church precious, as a community of missionary disciples for Christ in the world (Mt 28:19-20).
In the shadow of sin and scandal, the distance between this biblical ideal and the present reality is all too evident. The endless contradictions of humanity seem almost to block out or obscure the vitality of the Good News which is, even so and ‘nevertheless’, this broken community’s abiding gift (donum) and task (factum).
This veiling of the Gospel message has been evident in the public square where even the Pope’s resignation was perceived by select media as the punctuation mark on worldwide administrative failure rather than an act of pastoral care made in the interest of the common good.
All in the Catholic Church is seen through the window of bankruptcy with the power of the Gospel and the witness of the faithful hardly in view (consider the present Caritas Project Compassion campaign, sidelined by recent events though expressing in action the Church’s preferential option for the poor).
As I’ve noted, there is also an opposite temptation for Catholics at this crossroads of scandal – to continue on blinkered to the facts, resorting to an idealisation of the Church that represents not Christ’s body moving through history but rather an inability to confront the reality of sin in its rawness and immediacy.
As the Benedictine Sebastian Moore points out, at times we do not need so much conversion from sin as we need conversion from innocence. This season of Lent reminds us, above all, that no future or growth is possible when we do not confront the truth about ourselves, including moral failings past and present.
Between the two poles of wholesale abandonment of the faith and ‘Pollyannaish denial’ lie other possibilities in this time of challenge for faith.
Indeed, the very paschal mystery which we anticipate and enter into this season of Lent presents us with ‘a way of hope’ in the Church’s life. It is a ‘way’ that needs to be learned and relearned over our Christian discipleship in the face of suffering, that of ourselves, our loved ones, and our Church, and in the face of an always undetermined future.
It is in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, that we find the path of Christian conversion open before us, for us as individuals and as a Church that cries out for renewal.
This paschal way promises no immunity from loss and the shattering of our expectations but actively invites that self-emptying and displacement to make room for that which we could not have known otherwise – a life utterly dependent on, free and enabled by God’s grace.
At this time, our Church could be said to be ‘suffering’ the reception of grace, suffering the movement from fear to love, isolation to compassion, slumber to wakefulness, self-interest to self-sacrifice.
The Easter story tells us that this experience of death will not be the end of our hope.
This death, a summary of all that we fear and have constructed for ourselves, is a preparation and a purification so that we might encounter and respond to the glory of God with ‘unveiled faces’ (2 Cor. 3:18). The final lines of Psalm 125 assure us that while we may ‘go out weeping’ into the harvest in the coming time, the Lord will bring us home with joy.
This Lenten season the Royal Commission could serve as the unforeseen ‘sacrament’ of the Church’s reconciliation.
As in any confession, by admitting our faults to others it becomes harder to hide them from ourselves. I am convinced that in this time of pain and only-apparent hopelessness, the Church is being drawn ever deeper into the paschal mystery.
In other words, we are being united ever more closely with the way of Jesus and, in and through Him, with the promise of a new and resurrected life.
Daniel Ang blogs from Parramatta, NSW. He also writes at www.timeofthechurch.com and can be found on Twitter @DanielAngRC.
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