Archbishop Leonard P. Blair
EDITOR’S NOTE: This month’s column is the homily Archbishop Blair delivered on Jan. 27 at St. Bartholomew Church (St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish) in Manchester during the first Reparation Mass, one of three such Masses. The third and final Reparation Mass will be offered on Tuesday, March 26 at 7 p.m. at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church (Our Lady of Hope Parish) located at 78 Litchfield Rd. in Harwinton.
Every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by its very nature as a sacrifice, re-presents (not represents, but re-presents) what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross at Calvary. In the words of Second Corinthians: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is an astounding truth: On the cross, the sinless Jesus was made to be sin, and thereby suffered the punishment due to all sin, so that we might be redeemed of sin.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the sacrifice of Christ has infinite value and enables us to be reconciled to the Father, to ourselves, and to one another. But to share in the bounty of Christ’s sacrifice, each individual must exhibit true contrition for sin and a sincere desire for interior and moral reform.
Today, we are gathered in contrition and to make spiritual reparation to God, first of all; and spiritual reparation to those who have been so grievously wounded by the sin and crime of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
As we celebrate this Mass of Reparation, we heed what Our Lord said, that “if any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt 18:6)
In proclaiming Himself to be the anointed one in today’s Gospel, Our Lord reads the words of the Prophet Isaiah about deliverance from evil. The people in the synagogue expected a messiah who would deliver them from their woes, understood in terms of this world. It would soon become clear, however, that Jesus was not the messiah of an earthly paradise.
Yes, he performed great signs of healing in particular, but he made it clear: His Kingdom was not of this world, that spiritual blindness and poverty were the real evils to be overcome, and that the devil’s oppression was far greater than any earthly despot, because it killed the immortal soul not just the body.
Redemption was to be found in a change of heart away from sin and into faith and total trust in Jesus alone as Redeemer and Lord.
In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “the church, embracing sinners in her bosom, is at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, and incessantly pursues the path of penance and renewal.” (Lumen Gentium, 8) The council says “incessantly pursues” because the need is always painfully obvious among her members and it is always a struggle.
On the eve of the Third Christian Millennium, Pope St. John Paul II solemnly and very publicly acknowledged that certain words and actions of Church leaders and Church members over the centuries had been hurtful and wrong. He expressed sorrow and asked humanity for forgiveness. “The Church,” he said, “asks forgiveness for the historical sins of all of her children … Recalling all those times in history … when … instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal.”
Inspired by the example of this sainted pope, I am keenly aware of how his words apply to our own situation here and now. As archbishop of Hartford, I ask forgiveness of God, of the wider community and of our own Catholic people, and especially of all the victims of sexual abuse and their families. I ask it for all that Church leadership “has done or failed to do” contrary to discipleship in the Lord Jesus Christ when it comes to the protection of our most precious treasure, that is, our children.
I offer this heartfelt apology not so much as the head of an institution but as the spiritual father of a family, the wounded family of faith that is the Archdiocese of Hartford. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians in today’s second reading, if one part of that family suffers, all the parts suffer with it; just as when one part is honored, all the parts share the joy.
My dear brothers and sisters, sin and sorrow for sin is not the end of the Christian Gospel. Jesus says, “Repent and believe, because the Kingdom of God is near.” Mercy is always near; forgiveness is near; resurrection is near to those who know their need for God and for one another in Christ.
Those who have been sexually abused are indeed victims, victims who have nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about. They did nothing wrong and it was an adult who took sinful advantage of their trust.
But among them there are also those who prefer to be known as survivors. Faith tells us that this is not an impossible outcome. Nothing is beyond Christ’s healing power.
The archdiocese is pledged to offer victims the help of a support group and professional counseling services, but the deepest wounds and the deepest healing are always spiritual. So we turn to the Sacrifice of the Mass, our adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, our pleas for divine mercy and our prayers to Mary, Our Mother and Mother of the Church.
This is the necessary spiritual accompaniment for all we are trying to do to bring healing to those who have been so wounded by the sin and crime of sexual abuse by the Church’s clergy.
At the end of today’s Gospel, we are told that every eye in the synagogue of Nazareth was fixed on Jesus. And so it must be with us. During adoration after this Mass, we have an opportunity to prolong our prayerful gaze at Him in the Blessed Sacrament. We ask Him to restore joy to the wounded and freedom to those who feel bound to what they have suffered; to restore sight to those who cannot see a way forward; and, above all, to let the oppressed go free. Please join me in this entreaty.
And may God bless us all in overcoming evil with firm faith that where human possibilities are bleak or exhausted, the possibilities of God begin.