Mass of Lament in Solidarity with People affected by Institutional Abuse

We gather today to seek to be together, to acknowledge, stand in solidarity with, give voice to, to cry out – in anguish, pain, frustration, anger and great sadness. We are here to lament. Lament is looking to the future and trying to find hope but it requires a truth telling where we need to speak the unspeakable and find words in traumatised numbness.  It demands that the truth be told; that it be heard and received. It is a catalyst to examine responsibility and complicity. Truth telling causes us to remain alert, to educate and help prevent new victimisation and finding ways for healing, offer restitution, promote restoration of those unjustly treated and work for justice. Pope Francis has said: ‘The thing the church needs more today is the ability to heal wounds…and you have to start from the ground up.’



Ezekiel 37:1-14

John 11:1-45

Notes from homily:

We have just heard read in the Gospel passage-the shortest sentence in the Bible: ‘And Jesus wept’. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus- a place of death, darkness and emptiness.  For many of us that tomb has become the Catholic Church as we face the truth of pain, suffering, coverup, violence and even death. As we do that, we keep in mind that the gospel proclaims that Jesus is about life and calls us out of tomb.

‘And Jesus wept’. As do many people. And Jesus weeps out of love and sorrow with all who are weeping and grieving – people abused, and their families.  The body of the Church has been deeply wounded by the sins of its members; and those wounds have, and continue to be deeply felt by the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. And, in some way and in different degrees, every one of has been affected by this. Today, we lament, we openly grieve these wounds together. Pope Francis, in 2013 reflected on Christian hope by referring to Rachel's inconsolable sorrow and mourning for her children (in the Book of Jeremiah) who ‘are no more,’ where she refused to be consoled to express ‘the depth of her pain and the bitterness of her weeping.’ Francis said that her weeping represents every mother and every person throughout history who cry over an ‘irreparable loss.’

Jesus calls us all away from making the tomb our natural habitat. And we are challenged to not let it be thus for our sisters and brothers by taking responsibility and being in solidarity with them. Jesus’ weeping outside the tomb calls us to participate in liberating one another from our tombs. ‘Unbind him!  Both readings illustrate God’s desire that we not just have life but have it fully and abundantly. We are called into life (authenticity) and liveliness (passion). It occurs through our attention to the ‘bodies’ of others through our solidarity with victims of injustice and oppression, our service, compassion and risk taking.

Ezekiel addresses a people alive but as good as dead - a shattered and captive nation exiled in Babylon. Death was their companion as in so many places today. Israel’s exile was a grave war crime where she became ‘no people’. The ‘dry bones’ has its obvious parallels. The Lazarus  and the dry bones stories focus on those who struggle to live and believe whilst surrounded by suffering in any way and need to hear and respond to the call to ‘Come out!’ from darkness into light; come from death into life, come from bondage into freedom.

Will those bones ever be put back together? Will they ever come together in unity through peace and reconciliation, through mutual respect of peoples’ difference? Jesus’ answer to this and to us is: ‘Unbind him; let him go free’. We cannot be mere spectators in this reconciliation, liberation and healing. We must not make the tomb our natural habitat. Nor should we allow it to be that for others. We have a part to play. We stand before many tombs and must call others from them, untie them and set them free. Often we hold ourselves and others captive by our fears and self-image and by the way others define and name us. We imprison people by our judgments, prejudices, fear and isolation. Jesus needs us to remove the stone that blocks people from coming to life. We have the power to unbind one another and free each other and love another into life.

‘And Jesus wept.’ He still weeps when our judgements, self-protection, prejudices, self-image, brand name and fears keep that rock/stone before the tomb and isolate others. Might Jesus not weep when a person such as Francis Sullivan spoke of nearly every public hearing looking at Catholic Church institutions finding rigidity, closedness, defensiveness and combativeness when threatened. Might Jesus not weep when Francis Sullivan spoke of how the Church was ready to use all its might, resources and social position to prevail over abuse survivors who sought justice and when the first instinct of most church officials was to protect the reputation of the Church, regardless of the cost to the survivor and their family.  What depth of faithful love is necessary to bring life out of the decomposing corpse of my life, my country, my world, my congregation and church?  When the ‘corpse’ seems to have rotted away, we ask if these bones can still live?  

We must not be afraid. These bones can live. The tomb can be opened. People can be free. We are assured that we are not alone. Though we acknowledge our pain, raise questions, express disappointment in God, and stare at the grave we are told that in our most vulnerable moments, God in Jesus stands with us at the grave and promises life. When Jesus says that he is the resurrection and the life, he is saying that no darkness, no tomb, no suffering is so dark, for him and for God. Nothing is beyond God’s power - not sin, violence, injustice, disbelief, evil and death itself. Remember the words of Paul in the Letters to the Romans: ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God.’  And with Easter approaching, we can, each one of us, do life differently as we relate and engage with one another especially with the victims of our institutions and systems and more broadly, empire.

God's life-giving power is evident when we are closest to our simple humanity, when connected to others; to their ache of longing, to their cherishing tenderness, to their anguish. Jesus says to us: ‘Untie him and let him go free.’  

When God’s Spirit comes upon us we must ‘come out’ – we must be people who seek life for others as for ourselves: speak and build peace. Jesus says: ‘Lazarus come out.’ Jesus says to those around him: ‘Untie him and let him go.’ Our world needs a voice that will invite us out of our tombs and into freedom: freedom from the culture of violence, death, racism, discrimination, debt, revenge, and blindness to the needs of others.  It also needs our voices that invite our sisters and brothers out of their tombs. We are challenged not to shy away from the sacrifices and struggles that arise as we work for life and justice in our world. As Martha begged Jesus to give life back to Lazarus, we beg him to give new life back to our brothers and sisters. As people of faith, we cannot close our eyes to the wounds of others. Faith that closes its eyes to wounds is just an illusion.

I think these words from Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta help us and challenge us:

‘I believe we are living in a time of grace and hope precisely because this fallow time allows us to rid ourselves of what is unworthy of Christ and to grow more deeply in our identity and mission as his disciples. Hence, it is the time to reclaim for the Church:

  • Less an enclosure for the virtuous but more an oasis for the weary and downtrodden;
  • Less an experience of exclusion and elitism but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity;
  • Less of an attitude of ‘we are right and you are wrong’ and more of an attitude of openness to truth wherever and whoever it is to be found;
  • Less a leadership of control and clericalism but more a diakonia of a humble servant exemplified by Christ at the Last Supper;
  • Less a language of condemnation but more a language of affirmation and compassion; and
  • Less a preoccupation for its own maintenance but more a concern for the Kingdom of God

In the end, though, I firmly believe that we’re on the threshold of renewal and transformation. The Second Vatican Council set in motion a new paradigm that cannot be thwarted by fear and paralysis……..That new paradigm is one that is based on mutuality not exclusion, love not fear, service not clericalism, engagement with the world not flight from or hostility against it, incarnate grace not dualism. The Holy Spirit is at work even at a time of great anguish’  

And to conclude, Sr Sandra Schneiders when speaking to the Religious of Ireland some time ago said that ‘suffering has wrought a kind of maturity in those who have stayed that is neither self-satisfying, on the one hand, nor apologetic on the other. We do not claim to know what is going to happen in the immediate or long term future in the world or in the church. But we do know in who we have place our trust.’

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