Jesus said to His disciples:
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“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning. All this I have told you so that you will not go astray… a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God…. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you” (John 15:26-16:4).
Let’s apply this warning to the scandals in the Church relating to sexual abuse by priests. Let’s consider what the media and others are doing to kill our good reputation. Many are claiming to be speaking for God as they broadcast what they believe is wrong with Catholicism and the celibate priesthood and the headship of our male leaders. This climate has even increased false accusations against clergy and others who work for the Church (in my diocese, there are as many false claims damaging our priests as there are priests resigning because they had perpetrated damage to true victims).
During scandals in the church (or during any problem), how are you testifying for Jesus? The beginning of this passage points out that the Holy Spirit “testifies” about Jesus. What does this mean? And why is it followed by the next verse: “And you also testify…”?
The Spirit of Truth, which is how Jesus identifies the Advocate who proceeds from the Father, speaks (advocates) the truth about who Jesus really is and what He has done for us. We, too, are witnesses of this in our own experiences of Jesus, and we advocate the truth whenever our lives reveal the difference He has made.
This passage reminds me of the popular contemporary song “Testify to Love”, which says, “For as long as I shall live, I will testify to love, I’ll be a witness in the silences when words are not enough….” Since God IS love, whenever we testify to love, we are testifying to Jesus. That means that everything we do and say should reflect who Jesus really is.
In the scandals in the church (or in any problem), how are you testifying? Are you fearful? Negative? Complaining? Publicly expressing anger? While these feelings are legitimate responses to the discovery of abuse, we need to process through them and get past them. If we remain stuck here, we are testifying to evil. But if we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to be the Advocate of the Church, in us and through us, we can testify to love.
It requires healing, forgiveness, trust in the over-riding plan of God, and a desire to be holy. Christian living is never easy. Testifying to Jesus means walking with Him to the cross and suffering there. The testimony of this walk, however, is what comes next: resurrection, renewed life, and the pentecost of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.
We are all affected by clergy scandals. As one Body, we are suffering with the victims. We are suffering with the parishes that lose the priests they had trusted. We are suffering with the priests who are so sick that they became perpetrators of evil. As one Body, we are also making our way toward our resurrection and the new, stronger, healthier community we will become.
In a way, this is a glorious time we are living through. The glory of God is being revealed for all the world to see. Abuses are being stopped and prevented. Victims are being heard and healed. Men who should not be priests are being weeded out, and unChristian Catholics who are taking advantage of this for their own gain (by making false accusations) are also being weeded out, pulled from the garden by the lies of their own schemes.
Let us raise our voices to declare the glory of God and testify to Jesus by being examples of His love! May this scandal end up reflecting who Jesus really is, and Lord, may it begin with me! Amen!
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