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Healing fire

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Bishop Mark

Following is text of the homily delivered by Bishop Mark O'Connell at a Mass of the Holy Spirit for the Purification and Healing of our Church for Catholics in the North Region of the archdiocese, Sept. 25, 2018.

It is a confusing time to be a Catholic in general and I understand it is an especially confusing time for those who were victims of sexual abuse. It is important to be with you all to reflect upon this and to pray together invoking the Holy Spirit to come among us with healing fire and purify the people of the Church, victims of sexual abuse especially at the hands of priests. To purify our laypeople, those who work for the Church, deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals and popes. There is only one acting pope, of course, but two wear white zucchettos on their heads.

St. John the Baptist once proclaimed: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3: 11).

We often pray: "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, enkindle in them the fire of your love."

Finally, Teilhard de Chardin once wrote: "Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."

It is this cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit and the energies of God's intense love that we call to burn in every one of our hearts who dare to name ourselves "Christians" and that we beg to come upon our Church in abundance and overwhelm the chaff of sin and confusion that has crept its way onto our hearth.

Let me name some of the confusion:

-- Above all we wonder what causes those to abuse others in anyway, let alone sexually abusing a minor, and even further than that what would cause a priest to fall to such depths of perversion.

-- We wonder how many more victims who are out there have been unable to come forward who might be holding this awful pain in the depths of their hearts.

-- We wonder how many victims of priests have hurt themselves or committed suicide as a way to free themselves of hurt and pain and shame.

-- We wonder how many parents of victims, family members, neighbors, mentors and priests who failed to hear the cry of their loved ones are racked in their own guilt for neglect.

-- We wonder how bishops who knowingly covered or dismissed these heinous crimes could not have considered the victims and potential victims first rather than the possibility of scandal.

-- We wonder lately how Theodore McCarrick, who was known to have victimized adults who were subordinate to him, could have possibly have been promoted to the rank of cardinal.

-- We wonder who to believe in this world of social media and who to turn to in these modern times for straight answers that can be trusted.

-- We wonder about the future of our Church now that we have lost the trust of so many.

The Book of Lamentations speaks of despair, "My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is," but it calls this its reason to have hope, "the favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent. They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness."

Deep within our soul, all of us understand and believe this. Our souls were created by God and for God and they long for God and "out of the depths they cry for God, Lord hear my voice." But evil and sin and crimes against humanity block this hopeful cry within us and fill us with doubt despair and confusion.

Listen to the confusion and doubt despite her faith of both Martha and Mary, when Jesus came too late to save their brother Lazarus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!" They actually said this with tremendous faith for Martha adds, "But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." But others spoke with sneers and skepticism saying, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"

So many have taken the position of the angry crowds, but we dare today to pray with Martha and Mary as we ask the same question and express the same faith, "Lord, where were you when our brothers and sisters were victimized, yet even now we place our trust in your power." For this is the innate hope that exists in our hearts and souls, that we cling to.

-- Hope that those who have been hurt will find the courage to face their pain and begin the process towards peace and that healing might begin to bloom.

-- Hope that those priests and bishops who preyed upon the young will admit their guilt and understand that they must stand aside from any kind of priestly ministry whether impelled by the law or not and seek mercy from God.

-- Hope that effective preventative measures can be in place not only in our archdiocese but in every corner of our Universal Church.

-- Hope that the investigation into how to Theodore McCarrick became so powerful despite his depravity leads to answers and consequences.

-- Hope that all Catholics will take the time to listen to those who have been abused and that all people who work in the Church, whether they be clergy or lay will be aware of signs of abuse and ensure the safety of all.

-- Hope that someday trust in the Church will be fully merited and cherished as a gift by those in authority positions.

Ultimately, we place our hope in Jesus Christ who, far from meriting any of the stain of sin, rather took on our sin as he was nailed to the cross; understanding the cruelty of the world, the wickedness of jealous hearts, the depravity of man, and the scandal of silence in the face of evil, he nonetheless, looks upon us all with love. He broke the chains of death and showed us that ultimate justice lies in heaven and where God dwells with infinite mercy and compassion and longing for the cry of our souls.

Jesus was perturbed and deeply troubled and he openly wept before he raised Lazarus from the dead; with a groan he healed the man who was deaf and mute, with a loud cry he gave himself up on the cross. Today in our Church we weep and groan and cry out in loud voices sending up our sighs in this valley.

Are you comfortable praying like that? Can you sigh and groan and cry out and weep in prayer? Can you speak to the Lord with the voice of your soul? Can you commit yourself to going where God is calling you? Can you do what you can to stop and listen to your neighbor, your family member your brother and sister in need? Can you promise to have the courage to speak out when see something wrong? Can you ask if you suspect something? Can you pray this night for our brothers and sisters whom the Church has hurt? Can you love as Jesus asked us to?

For not one of us here can begin to imagine the depths of God's love for us or the thirst God has for the cry of our soul. Where were you Lord? Where are you Lord? I am right here with you upon my cross and I give to you the most powerful force in Creation. It is the Holy Spirit -- let it burn.


- Most Reverend Mark O’Connell is Auxiliary Bishop of Boston and Pastor of St. Theresa of Lisieux Parish in North Reading.

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