Our opening prayer this afternoon concludes with these words: “may the presence of your Spirit among us bring renewal and courage.” And in a few minutes, we will pray a very searching and thorough Litany of Renewal, asking the Lord Jesus for many graces of both deliverance and reform.
The aim of all such renewal is that we all become that kind of person whom Jesus portrays in the Beatitudes – Himself, in other words. It is the Spirit who renews us to make that happen, who causes us to become more like Jesus. The work of the Spirit in each of us goes far beyond the healing of sins committed by us or against us. His grace does not stop at bringing us back to where we started before the sin was committed. It takes us much further. It takes us to become as Christ Himself is. It makes us into other Christs. It effects in us the integrity of holiness. And holiness is just another name for that perfect image of Jesus which the Spirit achieves in us, although it is an achievement that cannot happen without our yes, our fiat, our daily commitment.
So, the Spirit respects our humanity – even more than we do ourselves. He takes us along the path to become like Christ at a pace and in ways He knows that best suit our fragility, our brokenness, our abused or our sinful condition. He does not hurry or take shortcuts, lest one step forward become two steps backwards. At the same time, though, he nudges and inspires us to work with Him, to go the extra mile, to take the extra risk that the process of healing will require.
What the Spirit does at an individual level, He does also at the level of the Church. There is no question that over these most painful decades in which the abyss of abuse has gaped open in the Church, the Spirit has brought about the first ginger steps of renewal. There is still a long way to go, of course, and recent revelations from Portugal remind us that the full and blood-curdling story of abuse in the Church universal has yet to be fully told. As we begin to grapple with abuse and search for language and tools and strategies to try and make sense of it and deal with it, we become aware that it has been like an undiagnosed and metastasized cancer within the whole Body of the Church. And, as with any cancer, it must be radically cut out, leaving not one rotten cell, lest it return more virulent than before.
But all our efforts to achieve this must be rooted in the power of Christ’s Spirit, for only Christ can truly heal something of this magnitude. The Instruction which we use in Scotland to direct our safeguarding ministry, called “In God’s Image”, says it all in those words: since we are all made in God’s image, and since the perfect image of God is Christ, then it is only to the degree that we implement that Instruction in the light and power of Christ that the safeguarding ministry will achieve its goal. And that goal is, I repeat, not merely to bring victims and survivors of abuse back to a healing and integrity which they had before they were abused, but to an ever-greater conformity to Christ Himself. Whatever types and combinations of therapies are needed must be provided, but the greatest therapy is the grace of the Spirit. With this, it is Christ Himself who gradually renews and then transforms the abused through prayer and the sacraments in the heart of the worshipping community.
The reality on the ground, of course, is that many victims and survivors have been so damaged by their abusers that they want little or nothing to do with the Church or even with Christ. Great patience and perseverance have to be exercised by the qualified officers of the safeguarding ministry in these cases, helping those concerned along as far as they are able to go. We are here to pray today precisely for them so that they will be helped along the path towards complete healing, renewal and new-found holiness in Christ.
The path they must tread is very often a real way of the Cross, as they come to terms with what has been done to them and with what is involved in overcoming it. In walking with them, the officers of the safeguarding ministry are a bit like Our Lady walking with Jesus along the Via Crucis; and a bit like Simon of Cyrene, carrying the Cross with them; or like Veronica, offering solace and practical assistance. The rest of us can be like those in the crowd who supported Jesus, encouraged him, prayed for him, wept for him.
So, today, before the Cross of our Saviour we come in a spirit of penance, of compassion and of supplication and raise up to Him the hearts, minds, souls and bodies of all victims and survivors of abuse in the Church. As they touch His deep wounds, may they know deep healing in every aspect of their being. As they feel his last breath upon their faces, may they be filled with His Spirit. As they hear His cry of abandonment, may they know themselves embraced by His pierced Heart. As they feel the blood and water flowing from his side, may they be cleansed and purified. And as they see this divine Victim of love asleep in death, may they pass from being Victim, not only to being Survivor, but to being outright Victor over all that has sought to demean and destroy them.
Crucified Lord, make your Church, your Body, continue to share your Cross in this world. In no other way can she be protected from evil. In no other way can she be cleansed of evil. In no other way can she again be credible as a witness to your grace and mercy in this world. Save us, Saviour of the World, for by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free!