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The timing of the Gospel reading for June 14, 2002, was very appropriate for the sexual scandal in the Church and the U.S. bishops’ efforts to implement Christ’s way of dealing with it. It was Mathew 5:27-32, where Jesus draws a clear line against the sin of sexual misuse (any misuse of the gift of our sexuality is abuse and therefore a sin).
As we pray for the bishops and their process of discernment and planning and rule-making, we want them to include the whole picture that Jesus presented, and we ourselves want to incorporate this into our spiritual journey. In the whole picture, Jesus is forgiving the sinners, telling us to forgive seventy times seven times, even when the sinner is not repentant. The picture shows Jesus telling us to cast stones of condemnation only if we are without sin, and of course we are sinners, too. At the same time, the picture shows Jesus protecting the vulnerable and healing the wounded. And the picture shows Jesus redeeming what evil created and resurrecting a glorious new Body from it.
Our Church is going through a purging process — a Purgatory — of all sorts of sexual sins, from pedophilia to adultery, and this is very painful but very, very good and necessary. We all suffer this pain, because we are One Body: We are Christ’s suffering Body on earth. And we are Christ’s healing Body, too. We are His hands that reach out to help victims AND that invite perpetrators to change. We are His feet that walk to where others are sitting in their pain so that we can give them Jesus’ love. We are His mouth that apologizes for the sins of others. We are His heart that beats with deep compassion for both victim and victimizer.
Jesus insisted that we get rid of whatever causes us to sin. Many pedophiles commit their crimes after viewing, for example, pornography. Even within the addiction of this disease, it’s better that they remove the ability to see what causes the sin than to end up accountable for causing pain to the victim and to the whole Church. But there is another level of understanding in this verse that says, “It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.”
We pray for the healing of all victims, which includes the pedophiles, because they were once abused or else they would not be so vulnerable to sexual addiction. Jesus never cast someone out of the community because of their sinfulness. In fact, He especially reached out to them and dined with them and ministered to them and only after that invited them to “go and sin no more.” What Jesus did cast out was the unwillingness to change — and this is true for all of us! — because it’s infectious.
Repeated sin not only wounds the sinner’s relationship with God and not only wounds more and more people, but it also endangers the whole community, because the example of unchecked sin becomes an excuse for others to sin. We’ve seen this in how our brothers and sisters in the Lord have joined the media in bashing the Catholic Church. “It is better for you to lose one of the members of your priesthood or your parish staff or your family than to have your whole community go into the hell of sin.”
While we shake our fingers at the priests who rejected their calling to be models of holiness, we must also examine ourselves for on-going sins that are infecting the Body with a bad example. All of us are called to be images of Christ; where we fail at this, we are hurting all.
So we pray Psalm 27:9: “Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not Your face from me; do not in anger repel Your servant. You are my helper: cast me not off.” This is an awesome repentance prayer that we should utilize first for ourselves and then on behalf of sexual sinners in the Church and in our families and friendships.
And while we endure the Body’s current Purgatory, we pray verses 13-14: “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord” — for our redemption is coming!
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