April 12, 2014 – Saying We Are Sorry (A Lot)

Well we have made it to Holy Week!  For priests and others involved in liturgy you could say that we have come to “crunch time.”  The many plans that have been made are now put into motion.  The palms are out, servers will be put through their paces, and the scent of incense will linger throughout the week.  It is the most activity the church will see compared to any other week of the year.  With all the busyness and distractions, it can be easy to forget what this coming week is really about.  We have so much activity this coming week because of the “week that was.”

The liturgies of this coming week are powerful and primal. We are a part of something both ancient and new, and what we do this week reminds us of that. The altar will be stripped. The cross will be venerated. The tabernacle will be emptied. The Blessed Sacrament will be moved. Bells will be stilled.  It is unlike any other time in our Catholic calendar.  For close to two thousand years, we have gathered like this, to light candles and chant prayers and read again the ancient stories of our redemption. But are we aware of what we are doing? Do we understand what it means? Do we realize the price that was paid?

In the midst of all of the activity of this coming week, perhaps we can take a moment each day to think about what Jesus was doing on that particular day all those centuries ago. What was on his mind on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday? What sort of anguish? What kind of dread? Has anything we have ever worried about, or lost sleep over, or agonized about, even come close to what was weighing on the mind and heart of Jesus?

Jesus, of course, was a man like us in all things but sin.  He must have been terrified. Long after the others had drifted off to sleep, did he stay awake and worry? Maybe he sat up alone, late at night, deep in thought or silent prayer, wondering how intense the pain of His death would become? How long would it last? How much humiliation would he be forced to endure, stripped and bleeding? And what about his mother? Is there anything he could do to spare her from this? And perhaps more than once he thought, somehow, of the endless generations to come—all the others who would follow him because of this one week.

Of all the calendars in all of human history, this is the one week that changed everything. This is the week that saw the institution of the Eucharist. It is a week that witnessed breathtaking betrayal, and denial, and torture, and heartbreak, and suffering, and death.  And then, incredibly, resurrection.  Think of all that has happened because of this week. All the martyrs and missionaries, saints and servants of God who gave everything—all because of what we are about to celebrate, and remember.

Because of this week, the world has ever been the same.  This is “the week that was.” Seven days that shook the world.  And the tremors haven’t stopped.

Part of why we put so much emphasis on this week is to allow us the opportunity to express our sorrow for our sins – which is why Jesus endured His terrible ordeal.  I remember in 2004, now Archbishop Wilton Gregory was interviewed by ABC News about the progress being made concerning sexual abuse by clergy.  At the end of the interview, he said that one of the pieces of advice he received was that part of making up for wrongdoing meant having to say you are sorry a lot.  This past week Pope Francis, even though we would seem to be past the “height” of the sexual abuse crisis, once again apologized on behalf of the church.

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests — quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests — to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the Pope said in remarks quoted  by Vatican Radio.  “The church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed,” Francis continued.  “On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children.”

 This was Pope Francis’ clear message to members of BICE [International Catholic Child Bureau] whom he received Friday in audience at the Vatican.   BICE works to protect the rights and dignity of the child worldwide. Speaking to them, Pope Francis also spoke about the need to reaffirm the rights of parents to decide “the moral and religious education of their children” and reject all forms of “educational experimentation with children and young people”.  He said that it is every child’s right to grow up in a family “with a father and a mother” capable of creating “a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity”. The Pope also called for an end to what he termed as “educational experiments” with children and young people, pushing a “dictatorship of one form of thinking” on them in the name of a pretended “modernity”.

This week, if someone asks you why you are going to be spending so much time in church, you may want to tell them that it is our time to say that we are sorry a lot.  Have a blessed Holy Week.  Peace.

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