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Priests are called to be representatives of Jesus the Good Shepherd, but when they fail, how do we fulfill Christ’s command to forgive them and to love them? How can we be Christ-like toward those who are not Christ-like toward us? That’s the challenge faced by all of us nearly every day, but it’s especially difficult for those who have been victimized by unhealthy shepherds who succumb to the temptations of sexual misconduct and by those who allow it.
(I know this hardship personally. I have been treated lustfully by a priest who also directed his unhealthy and inappropriate behavior toward others I care about, including two who were teenagers.)
We have much to recover from when we’re hurt by those who were called to be examples of Christ. We are devastated when we find out that we couldn’t count on protection from those who should have protected us.
Although we don’t expect perfection and faultless behavior from our priests, we do expect to feel safe under the care of those whom God has assigned to be our shepherds.
How do we move from shock and anger into healing and peace? How do we transition from being a victim to being like Christ? How do we leave behind this cross and enter into resurrection?
Jesus was both victim and healer. He understands how we feel. He shares our tears and our disapproval of what happened. He wants things to change as much as — no, even more than — we do.
Recovery is a long journey. It cannot be achieved from one short reflection such as this. However, it begins with the decision to want to be Christ-like in our reactions, in what we say to others about it, and in what we’d like to see happen to the perpetrators and those who allowed the evil to continue.
Having made that decision, the next step is to choose to forgive. Forgiveness is not something we have to feel a desire for. Forgiveness does not require that everything will turn out the way we’d like it to. Forgiveness is merely a decision to love unconditionally. We might have to love from afar, but as long as we can pray for “whatever is best” for everyone concerned — everyone! — then we are being Christ-like.
“Everyone” includes yourself. “Everyone” includes the perpetrators as well as the victims as well as those who could have stopped the abuse but did not.
Whether or not all shepherds are remorseful, our healing begins by choosing to hold unconditional LOVE for them in our hearts and in our words when we speak about this to others.
To be Christ-like means to allow HOPE to affect the next step in our recovery process.
Being Christ-like also means having FAITH that much good will be accomplished now that we’ve had the horrific but eye-opening wake-up call through events that have shocked and dismayed us.
So faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13)
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