DISTORTIONS OF THE HEART

Homily  September 2, 2018  22nd Sunday in Ordinary time

Jesus lamented in Mark’s Gospel that the hearts of the people were far from him.  In the Bible the heart is the very center of a person’s life.  It is the seat of our inner life, the seat of rationality, the seat of our emotions, ground zero of our religious and moral life, the inner most center for making decisions.  We praise and thank God from our hearts.  But the heart can be distorted, even to the point of evil, unless constantly purified by the word of God.  Jesus was particularly condemnatory of disregarding God’s commandments while clinging to human traditions and practices as if they were more important than the teaching of God found in the commandments.
In the sexual abuse crisis in the Church we find several distortions of the heart.  The  heart was distorted to thinking that it had to  protect the good name of the Church. The heart was distorted to thinking that it did not want information to be released that might trip people up in their faith.  The heart was deceived in the belief that offenders could  repent and be reassigned.  In a way from a human perspective you can understand these distortions but they all backfired.  Church leaders (bishops) are now seen as being more concerned about its assets and protection of the institutional side of the Church over the wellbeing of children.  Bishops and Church leaders are seen as covering up. And they are seen as moving perpetrators around without concern for the harm they might do and did do.  All these distortions may have been done with the best of intentions but lacked wisdom and prudence.
But there are two other distortions that I find more troubling.  First is the failure to perceive the harm done to the survivors, with their human dignity violated, and the devastating effects upon them.  The second is the cover up by those who knew and kept quiet and did nothing.
In our prayer we ask God to purify our hearts.
Much has been done in the United States by the Church to insure the protection of children and young people.  However, we must look further at the practices in the Church which can be detrimental to what is right and just and to what protects the dignity and worth of every person whether  in the Church or not.  I am not talking about our cor beliefs as expressed in the Creeds of the Church but rather practices or human traditions that keep us as a Church from being a sign and instrument for unity and peace in the world.  We must be a Church that listens to, cares for and embraces survivors of sexual abuse.  We must be a Church whose members are not afraid to speak when harm is being done.
St. James says in today’s reading: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”  This is a clarion call for examination of conscience and the necessary actions that must follow.
In accord with Jesus’ teaching in the gospels we must observe the commandments of God and not cling to any human tradition that distorts the gospel.  We must rend our hearts so we can be totally faithful to Christ and His teaching.  I am not talking here about a rigid, self-righteous, highly judgmental behavior, but rather about humble, honest fidelity to what our merciful God asks of us through His Son, Jesus.  We must be a Church where there is no tolerance for victimization of any kind.
Let me conclude by paraphrasing the words of St. James: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God our Father is this:  to care for the afflicted and to keep oneself unstained by evil in the world.
Bishop Stephen Blaire

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