At Holy Hour, archbishop says Church is holding out ‘withered hand’ to be healed

| September 17, 2018 | 0 Comments

Editor’s note: Archbishop Bernard Hebda gave the following homily Sept. 15 at the Holy Hour of Reparation and Prayers for Healing at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. 

In my almost three decades of priestly ministry and six decades of life experience, there have been many times when the grief and emotion have been so great, so raw, that words have seemed meaningless, when presence has seemed more important than eloquence, when the old familiar prayers and symbols of our faith have spoken to the heart, penetrated the heart, in a way that logic could not.

My fallback, indeed the Church’s fallback, has always been Mary. There’s something primordial, instinctive, in turning to our mother for protection, for a little TLC, in those moments of pain. Having stood at the foot of her son’s cross, there’s nothing that she cannot bear, no pain too great to share. She’s right at home in the trenches, or as the hurricane comes barreling in, or in a cathedral filled with sons and daughters who are angry, devastated, confused and ashamed.

As a toddler, I had what was probably an unhealthy interest in the scars on the cheek of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, hung in my immigrant grandmother’s home and in every Polish home on Pittsburgh’s South Side. The scars were reminders, I was told, that the Blessed Mother never turns away from even the greatest of horrors, that her faith, her trust, is far greater than her fear.

In the midst of unspeakable grief, we turn to her again this morning, on this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, to remind us of her comforting presence and the unfailing love of her Son, here present in the Blessed Sacrament. As we are reminded each time we pray the Hail Mary, she’s the one who prays for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

As sinners fortified by our mother’s love, we have gathered this morning not only for prayers of healing, but also for prayers of reparation, reparation for all those times that representatives of the Church we love, the Church founded by Christ, have: taken advantage of the young and the vulnerable by committing acts of abuse; or turned a blind eye to the suffering of those who were abused and their families; or failed to prevent abusers from continuing to offend; or stood silent in the face of abuse.

As painful as it is to read the atrocities compiled in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report or the allegations made against far-off cardinals or bishops, it’s even more gut-wrenching when we acknowledge that many of those horrors happened here as well. I will be forever ever grateful to our speaker this morning, and for all the survivors who have shared their stories with me.

It is only in confronting that reality that we can have any hope for healing — healing for those who suffered abuse, healing for the Church, and even healing for those who abused, or covered up, or stood silent.

Just earlier this week, daily Massgoers would have heard the passage from St. Luke’s Gospel detailing the healing in the synagogue of the man with the withered hand. In the presence of all gathered that morning for prayer, Jesus bids the man to come forward and to stretch out his shriveled limb, a badge of imperfection in any society, that hand that had probably been the source of embarrassment and shame since childhood, the hand that he would have probably hidden from sight — but it’s only when he stretches out the hand to the Lord that it is healed.

This morning, we as the Catholic Church of St. Paul and Minneapolis hold out our “withered hand” to Jesus — a painful history of abuse, of insensitivity, of misguided or callous institutional self-protection — and we ask the Lord, Mary’s son truly present in the Eucharist, for forgiveness and healing. We’re ashamed, embarrassed, mortified by our withered hand, but it’s only by exposing it that the Lord will restore us to health in a way that both gives glory to his Father and enables us to engage more fully in the important work before us, entrusted to us by our God.

We know that we will need that hand, strong and healthy, not only to welcome and heal but also to bring stability once the bankruptcy is behind us and we have the opportunity to set our sights in a more intense and focused way on the work of healing and restoring unity in our local Church. I am very grateful to the parishes who have already been working with survivors and other experts in this field to pilot restorative justice initiatives at the local level. I am confident that they are already bearing fruit, but am equally confident that the work is only beginning. We’ve begun a restructuring of the Office of the Protection of Children and Youth to provide greater support for initiatives of that sort as they expand.

I’m also grateful for the support that we have received in the broader community to assist us in our efforts. Our ongoing work with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and outside auditor, our periodic reports to the court, and our experience with survivors in the bankruptcy process, have all helped us to know what a healthy hand needs to look like. Realizing that the credibility of bishops is minimal in many sectors these days, I’m grateful that these outside monitors can assure the survivor community and our faithful that meaningful change is taking place.

I thank God daily for the extraordinary women and men on our Ministerial Review Board who keep us on task, as well as for the staff of our well-respected Office of Ministerial Standards. Along with those serving on our corporate board and finance council, they remind me, and our pastors and principals, that actions speak much more loudly than words in the work of rebuilding trust.

In the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, I recommit myself and our Church to the work of protecting from the scourge of abuse our children, our youth and our vulnerable sisters and brothers. It is that work that will give the greatest honor to the stories of this morning’s speaker and all who have suffered abuse in our local Church.

I feel privileged to be part of that work and ask your prayers not only for me and Bishop Cozzens and our collaborators at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center, but also for the priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers who day-in and day-out strive to make Christ the Healer present in our parishes, schools and communities. Join me in beseeching the Harvest Master to send many more virtuous and committed workers into this vineyard.

Finally, let us lift up in prayer the many men and women who have suffered abuse in our community, that through the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows, they might receive the healing that only Christ can bring, might recognize our sorrow and deep shame as sincere, and might contribute as they are able to the transformative change that we need as a local Church.

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