Listen to the Homily here
I may have mentioned, once or twice, my goddaughter. She is a little more than three and a half. A few weeks ago, when the calendars of a busy three-and-a-half-year-old child and a busy parish priest aligned, I met Madeline and her family at one of the newly constructed eateries near Charlotte. The family arrived first; they were seated and beginning to eat when I walked through the door of the restaurant. My goddaughter immediately got up from her chair, ran toward me cheerfully saying the closest and cutest approximation of Father Benjamin that she can muster, and jumped into my open arms. The joy in her eyes and the smile on her face were sharp contrasts to the angry and concerned eyes and disapproving looks of the other people seated in the restaurant. I saw their faces and I knew why they looked the way that they did: they were horrified and concerned to see a priest holding a child. I imagine that it will be that way for the rest of my life.
If there was any trust left after the scandals revealed in 2002, and if any trust had been rebuilt in the sixteen years since then, it is now gone. I am utterly horrified. I am ashamed. I am broken hearted. I am angry. I am disappointed. I am furious that consecrated men abused children and young people, that they abused their authority and the trust of their sacred office. I am horrified that predators were promoted rather than being punished. It’s tough to preach, and to pray.
But let us be clear: I and other faithful priests are not the victims here. We are, at best, collateral damage. The victims are the young people and children that were violated by those who should have protected them. The victims are those who were rejected and neglected by Church and legal systems. They are the ones who need our prayers and support. They are the ones who deserve our compassion, our consolation, and our care. Our eyes can never look away from those who are suffering, because to do so would be to take our eyes off of the Suffering Savior.
This is not a time of persecution: it is a season of purification. We as a Church must face the examination of conscience and the examination of conduct. This will not be pretty. The depths of depravity and dishonesty must be brought to the light. It will be painful. It will be disappointing and disheartening. But we pray that it will also be purifying and healing.
Knowledge and admission of sin and a desire to reform are the first steps on the path to holiness . . . and holiness is our only option. There is no path forward that does not involve a deeper commitment and a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We need an investigation and a review board and screenings and policies. Those must be part of the process, and they will be. But there is no abiding change, no change of heart or change of practice or change of behavior without a change of direction from the ways of the world to the way of the Lord Jesus. Holiness is our only answer. Holiness is our only path. Holiness is the only credible witness that can testify before the victims of abuse and the world. We have no choice. We must seek to be holy.
There is a great consolation in our long history. In the times of greatest disobedience and debauchery, in the days when faithfulness is cast aside, and sin is set up as the ideal, it is in those times when God raises up his greatest saints. I am consoled that in the face of these scandals the purifying fire of God’s justice will make way for the glorifying power of God’s holiness. God will raise up his saints. God will raise up his witnesses. The ever-faithful God remains ever faithful and ever merciful. That is our consolation and our challenge.
You see, it is from this room and from this community that God will raise up his saints. We will support each other on the way of holiness. As a priest, I cannot become holy without you. I am not a hermit, nor a monk. My path to holiness is not a cave in the desert nor a cell in a monastery; it is here, with you and for you. We walk the road to the Kingdom together. We struggle to be holy together. And together, with the trust and joy and expectation of a child of God, we run to the open arms of Jesus.
Preached at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Monroe, NC