Abuse and Disgust meet Penance and Reparation
In these letters over the past few weeks, we have discussed prayer, fasting and almsgiving: three great spiritual works that Jesus taught his disciples. The series sprang from an appeal by the Bishops of the United States to fast for Life, Marriage and Religious Freedom on the Fridays of August and September. (It is never too late to join the campaign! Check out: www.usccb.org/pray or text FAST to 55000.)
A lot has happened in five weeks. It is time to return to fasting, but I want to expand the topic.
Since we began our little journey the church in the United States has been rocked by the disgusting news of Theodore McCarrick, and reminders of heinous actions of priests and bishops in Pennsylvania. Some of this feels like scars ripped off old wounds from 2002, and some of it feels like a fresh gut punch. It is all disturbing and disheartening, and can fill us with anger, sadness and grief.
I do not have adequate words to describe the repugnance I feel. Nothing could be worse than violating the trust and fidelity the people of God (you) place in the clergy (us). And men who have taken solemn promises, who have made the same commitments as I have, have released a toxic poison into the Body of Christ with their sin and scandal. It's gruesome. This is nothing other than a diabolical plot hatched to undermine our Faith and lead people away from God and his Church.
Over the past year or two, throughout our country and beyond, we have also witnessed a great revealing of sexual predation, harassment, abuse: from Olympic athletes, to Hollywood stars, to Congress people. No one is spared. The #MeToo movement is a great work of courage, and bringing truth to power. Even our Protestant brothers and sisters have experienced their own trials of abuse, misdeeds and violations of trust.
So what does all this have to do with fasting?! Sin causes damage! Sin wounds our friendship with God and neighbor, but also inflicts a wound through our own heart. Fasting is a type of penance. Penance is a discipline imposed or chosen to strengthen and heal the soul. Penance is like Neosporin for the wounds that come from sin. Penance helps the healing, which we sometimes call reparation. Reparation is repair of the wound. Here's an illustration: two boys are playing catch in the yard. One overthrows his mate and the ball breaks the neighbor's window. They own up to the mistake. The neighbor forgives them but insists that they pay to fix the glass. Here we see the sin, the pardon and the reparation.
On August 20 th , Pope Francis addressed the crisis . He reminded us that we are all knit together. In the words of Saint Paul, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). He invited the whole People of God to respond, active participation of the whole Church. As part of his response, he called for penance and prayer: “Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of goodwill, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.” Prayer and penance will knit us together, attune us, and help us to heal the wounds caused by sin.
The wounds of many sinners inflict the Church. The Body of Christ is wounded, and has been from the beginning, since it is made up of sinners. Jesus came to call sinners! And these sinners, through conversion, seek to repair the damages caused by sin and to build up the Kingdom of God. Cool thing as Catholics, we can help repair the sins of others. Those who are willing and able can “offer up” fasting, hardship, illness, loneliness to help repair the Body of Christ. To put it another way, faithful disciples carry their crosses for the sake of the Kingdom, not just for themselves. This is intercession! This is reparation! This is the way to repair the open wounds in the Body of Christ.
So this week, I invite you to make some reparation. Spend a day uniting your aches and pains with Christ to heal the wounds of those victimized. Skip a meal or two to endure some small suffering for the sins committed against the young and innocent. Pray kneeling for the waywardness of a family member. That’s the idea. Seek out opportunities for penance in order to help repair the wounds caused by sin. This is a great work of charity, and one all can embrace in his or her own way. May God bless your faithfulness and love for His Church!
Yours with our suffering Lord,
P.S.: In light of Pope Francis' letter, Bishop O'Connell has asked that every parish set aside time for prayer and fasting. I am excited to participate. Stay tuned for more details!