5th Sunday of Easter B - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2015

On last Thursday the priests and some other lay leaders from the diocese were briefed about the up-coming sessions of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse scheduled for later in May. The Commission will investigate the Diocese of Ballarat over a period of about a month, before returning later in the year for a further session. During May the main business of the Commission will be to hear the story of abuse from the lips of many of the survivors.

We were warned that the story is simply awful. No doubt it will be widely publicised in the media. While providing a much-needed opportunity for survivors to have their stories heard and honoured, and hopefully to find some healing in the process, it will prove to be a painful time for many of us other Catholics. Some of you will be shocked and bewildered at the nature and extent of the abuse and the inadequate responses of Church authorities at the time. I would not be surprised if many of you will feel betrayed, confused and torn, wrestling to hold together your anger and disillusionment along with your instinctive loyalty to the Church and its ministers.

How to respond? I believe that it is important to recognise and to name whatever you feel. There is nothing wrong in feeling angry. Indeed, it is quite appropriate. Our feelings carry our energies, and we shall need all the energy we can muster to ensure as best we can that such abuse does not happen in the future. We do not need to choose between our anger, bewilderment, confusion, whatever, and our loyalty of the Church. They can all co-exist. It need not be a case of either/or. But the overall result will probably be a heavy sadness.

It is essential that we respect the victims and welcome their speaking up; and not only those who suffered the abuse, but their families, then and now, and their friends. We need to respect the hurt of fellow parishioners; and allow ourselves to grieve our lost innocence. While people are grieving is not time for justifications or defensiveness. There may be time to seek explanations afterwards.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compared our relationship with him to the unity between vine and branches. Vines need pruning for future vitality and fruitfulness. Interestingly, Jesus claimed that our Father is the one who does the necessary pruning. In some ways, the weeks ahead will prove to be a time of such pruning. Rather than fearing it, we can even welcome it as gift from God in the hope of greater vigour in the future and eventual rich harvest.

The Church is not just hierarchy and clergy. The Church is all of us. Together, we count among our members both saints and sinners. If the Church were purely for the sinless, none of us could belong. What constantly fascinates me is the readiness of Christ to reach out to all of us, not reluctantly, but with realistic and genuine compassion, going so far as to draw us into deep and personal intimacy with him and with each other, sinners and saints at the same time – as the Gospel put it today, “Make your home in me as I make mine in you”. It is not the Church as institution that we love, but as people. The love and compassion of Christ are best found in the local faith community and in our homes. That is where the life of Christ flows most freely.

The Royal Commission can be the shape that God’s call to us takes to grow up, sadder, perhaps, but wiser; to continue to trust but not be naïve; to be realistic about possible dangers; and be determined, as Jesus put it, to “remain in him with him in us”. We need to pray, particularly over the coming weeks, that we not to be “put to the test”. To the extent that we keep attuned to the heart and mind of Jesus, we can be assured that “we may ask what we will, and we shall get it.”