Today’s Gospel reading (John 6: 60-69) is a good one to ponder as we experience two recent major events in the life of the Church- the horrific events revealed in the Pennsylvania Report on Priest Sexual Abuse (8/16/18) involving at least 300 priests and over a thousand abused children and youth;and witnessing the hundreds of thousands gathered for the Ninth World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis culminating in Holy Mass at Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland today- 8/26/18. In a period of ten days our hearts must respond to horror and yet rise to see the hunger of people everywhere for God, for Christ and, yes, for Church. And, perhaps the hope of the church is to squarely and courageously face and address the horrors, called the open wound in need of immediate healing by Pope Francis, and to witness,understand, and respond to the hunger, the longing for God’s Love and Community that surpasses even the sins and weaknesses of the church and that can be fed only with the love of Christ-love that goes beyond any institutionalization of church to the heart of God and the hearts of those who long for God and the hearts of the people of God, for the people are church, not the walls nor the man-made hierarchy. May this moment of crisis and disequilibrium make the church ripe for risking changes at the very core that fulfill the love of Christ for the whole world.
The Gospel today begins with the words: “….This saying is hard, who can accept it?” (Or “This sort of teaching is very hard!”-two different Catholic Bible translations-NAB and Christian Community Bible-Pastoral Edition). The teaching referred to is Jesus saying that he is the bread of life come down from God and that he is offering his very self to eat and drink- for our sustenance. Let us both take this at face value (our later understanding of the Eucharist), and also suppose he is speaking metaphorically- for in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke “Bread of life” or “living water” would mean “my teachings are eternal truth” -truth giving life forever-if you live them. George Lamsa Aramaic scholar in Idioms in the Bible Explained… pp. 60,79, points out that understanding the Aramaic phraseology helps us to understand what the people in Jesus’ time would have heard. For example there is a phrase about eating and drinking flesh and blood that means “work very hard”. For example, “We have eaten the flesh and drunk the blood of our fathers while building this house” means “we have worked very hard to build this house”. Jesus challenges us to work very hard at living the truths he has taught us. To be Christian is ultimately not simply to say the “magic” words “I believe in Christ” or to take Holy Communion but to LIVE the essence of love, forgiveness, right relation to God and to all others, inclusion and compassion especially for the poor and outcasts of this world. That is, to work hard for justice and peace is to eat and drink the teachings of Christ-that is to work hard to live them.
Yes, it is hard to take in the bread of life and become the body of Christ. It is hard to have our lives become truly Christ-like. We may forgive one another for falling short though forgiveness is one of the hardest things we ever do- but we hold our priests and clergy to a higher standard-one closer to fully living Jesus. Hence when it is once again revealed to us that over 300 priests in one just one State, Pennsylvania(and there are 49 more states and the rest of the world to multiply this by)-could not live these truths but instead violated them and betrayed innocent children, youth and adults with rape, molestation and sexual abuse, using their power to subjugate and gratify themselves, we are horrified and many have expressed “that is why I left the church” or “that’s it- now I will leave the church”. It is hard to separate the followers of Christ who are supposed to lead us from the Christ we follow. And I am saddened not only by the sins of the church and the clergy but for those who are driven away by this-and then have little else to hang on to for life. This makes me angry at my fellow priests and at the mysogynist doctrines and canons that spawn them. Yet, I, along with the other Roman Catholic women-over 250 world wide- who have been ordained as priests will condemn the acts of sexual and power abuse and yet pray for our brother priests and for the church. We know that for the majority of good priests this news of wide scale abuse is painful to accept, to tolerate and to bear. Yet it is clearly also true. We are deeply imperfect, our church is imperfect and yet we seek to follow and remain with Jesus and to be there for God’s hungry and thirsty people. And, like our brother priests, and despite the lack of acceptance for us, we have not left the church but, at whatever costs, seek to renew it with our lives.
When Jesus asks”Do you also want to leave?” Or “Will you also go away?” with hearts wrenching we reply “No, but we will work very hard to renew the Church in Christ’s image of love and compassion for all who hurt and have been hurt, even by the institutional church, with the help of God. For me, it helps to keep in mind and and heart my own beloved parishioners and to witness the hundreds of thousands who show up to have Mass with Pope Francis even after experiencing and knowing full well the evils perpetuated by the Church in Ireland and by the Church in Pennsylvania and the imperfect clergy and institution world wide-the examples of abuse are far too many to name here. And, yet, with their disillusion and with eyes wide open they come, they come to seek the living Christ. And probably among them are those wronged by priests. And probably among them are couples who are same sex heading families who are not seen as families in the eyes of the “official” church doctrine, and among them are those who seek Christ beyond the imperfections of doctrine and priests that have hurt them. May we work hard to be the body of the living Christ to all who seek and want to draw closer to God’s love. May we be the instruments of peace and love blessing all families without reserve of any kind. May we become the love of Christ.
Here are some links to articles on the horrific clergy abuse and relevant strong responses including those by Pope Francis, the Bishops of Roman Catholic Women Priests world-wide and the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests and others.
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Modern-Catholics-Church-Sex-Abuse-Report-Pope-Francis-491295871. by Alicia Victoria Lochtin.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/08/17/roman-catholic-church-sex-abuse-scandals-struggle/1024427002/ by Kate McElwee WOC
Let us pray that the church will be so challenged by recent truths to restructure to include married priests, women, openly gay clergy and all who God created in God’s image to reflect God’s love to all people. Let us pray that all who serve- clergy and “lay people” alike may grow closer to the heart and love of Christ and that all those harmed by clergy and church will find complete healing and love in the heart of Christ.
In sorrow and in love,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community Fort Myers, Florida