“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:12-13).
With these verses from the Prophet Joel, the Church began the observance of Lent on Ash Wednesday. These 40 days are dedicated to purifying our hearts, seeking the Lord’s grace to turn back to him and preparing for Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. In a sense, Lent encompasses the journey of the whole Christian life within 40 days. We experience the bitterness of sin and its consequences, reach out to God for help and receive the gift of resurrection in return.
These days the Church is undergoing purification on a much larger scale. As we become increasingly aware of the impact and reach of sexual abuse in the Church and in society, the need for all Catholics and people of good will to reach out to God the Father for his healing and forgiveness becomes apparent.
During 2018, I celebrated four Masses at the Cathedral in reparation for the sins committed by clergy and continue to do so in private Masses. I pray for all those who have been sexually abused. After the liturgies were over, I heard from survivors who weren’t abused by priests but had been victimized by others. They were very grateful for the chance to pray for healing and to hear others praying for them as well. The action of God’s grace in helping people to forgive those who hurt them was evident.
In meetings with other survivors, I have seen the same thing happen. It is only when they forgive their persecutors – as Jesus modeled for us from the Cross – that they find lasting freedom and healing.
As I mentioned in my last column, the three dioceses of Colorado have entered into an agreement with the Attorney General and are working towards the launch of a victim’s compensation program to facilitate the healing process.
Yet we cannot neglect the importance of God’s grace and guidance in this process either. That is why I have established the First Friday of Lent as a day of prayer and fasting in the archdiocese, from this year going forward. I invite you to join in this day of penance for the healing of survivors of sexual abuse and in reparation for the sins committed against them, especially those perpetrated against minors.
Recently I have read excerpts from The Book of Gomorrah (Liber Gomorrhianus) by St. Peter Damian, a Benedictine monk who lived between 1007 and 1072. His book was written to Pope St. Leo IX during a time when the clergy were morally lax, and the authority of kings and the Church’s leaders was collapsing. St. Peter Damian’s book reminds us that sin is not a modern problem, while also underscoring that God can truly heal the effects of sin.
As an archdiocese, we must continue our efforts to bring healing to abuse survivors and Lent provides the perfect opportunity. Over these 40 days, let us keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus Christ and pray specifically for the personal and collective healing and conversion of our Church.
May God the Father help us grow in holiness, so that every person will come to know the healing love of Jesus Christ who “was wounded for our transgressions [and] bruised for our iniquities…with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Featured image by Kamil Szumotalski | Unsplash