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Reconciling the sins of the past

Father Randy Dollins is the Vicar General and Vicar for Clergy for the Archdiocese of Denver.  In this column, he shares some reflections on the Church in Colorado moving forward, while dealing with its difficult past.

The World Series is one of the year’s most exciting sporting events. I think one of the most difficult roles in the world of sports is that of the relief pitcher, who almost always is entering into the game in difficult situations. None worse than inheriting bases loaded with no outs. The difficulty he must face is not one of his own making, and yet he must now bring his talents to bear and help his team get through the inning and move forward.

In a much more serious way, all of us who make up the Body of Christ, the Church of Colorado, have inherited a difficult situation that is not of our own making. We are part of a Church that has some ugly issues in its past — as shown by the release of the Independent Review Report.

As we face the inevitable challenges that come from the media, our friends and family, and even our own inner doubts, it is important that we not lose sight of the hope that Jesus gives us. St. Paul tell us in his Letter to the Ephesians: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones.” (Ephesians 1:18)

Here, St. Paul is praying that the reader will grasp the great promise of the future, because when we have clarity about our future, it changes the way we understand our present reality, especially our view of hardships and challenges.

Think about it this way: if I were to press you into service to carry a large 50 lbs. box for 10 miles, you would not be happy. If I promised to pay you one dollar per mile, this might even make you more upset, as the compensation would be insulting compared to the effort you would have to put forth. But what if I were to pay you $1 million per mile? I bet that you would no longer be upset with me, that you would be thanking me for entrusting the task to you.

We have been invited, through the redemption won for us on the cross, to a future full of hope, which includes eternal life in heaven in the midst of the assembly of the holy ones in right praise and right relationship with God. This destiny of ours is far more important and impressive than getting paid $10 million. We need to pray for increased clarity about who we are and where we are headed so that we do not lose hope in these challenging times, because we are the beloved children of a faithful Father. With our hope rightly understood, the present difficulties are less likely to defeat us.

As we face this challenging time in the history of our local Church, let’s keep the following things in mind:

• Colorado, unlike other states, has found a way for the Church and the civil authorities to come together, in a cooperative and amicable manner, to address the concerns of all citizens. Both the Review Report and the Reparations Program are a step forward in transparency and accountability.

• Everything that is good, holy, and noble in our Catholic faith is still present and is worth protecting.

• The sacraments remain valid despite the unworthiness of those at whose hands they were offered; despite the sin of the ministers, the grace that they mediate remains.

• None of us is Catholic because we think the leaders of the Church are flawless, but rather, because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that his victory becomes our victory.

• Sexual abuse of minors is a major problem in our society today; but it is a historical problem in the Church with its clergy, employees, and volunteers. While making no excuses for the past, and never claiming to be perfect in the present, the Church is in a position to share its experience of how to effectively address abuse.

Finally, let us take to heart the words of Jesus from his discourse during the Last Supper: 

“In the world you will have trouble; but take courage: I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

Father Randy Dollins
Father Randy Dollins is the Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Denver.
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