I am writing this on the feast day of the Conversion of St Paul. The liturgy keeps repeating the phrase “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News”.
It is a great feast for any missionary group, any missionary people. All of us in the Church are missionary people. All of us have Good News to tell. This can be in our home, at work, in the school or to anyone we meet. As Columbans we and those who support us feel the call to “go out to the whole world and share this Good News”.
Unfortunately as we have seen very clearly in recent years, the news about the church has not been good. The abuse of children, especially by priests in the Church, has been horrific. The cover up of what has happened has been appalling. In response, leaders have apologised and efforts are being made to make sure our Church is a place of safety for children and all those who are vulnerable. Many people are undertaking training programs at all levels of the Church in the hope that the abuse and cover ups will not be the story of our Church in the future.
As the Columban Society in Australia we have started the process of joining the Federal Government’s National Redress Scheme. I see it as part of our Columban support for victims of child sexual abuse. It can take up to six months to do the paperwork and to get the final signature of the Federal Minister for Families and Social Services.
The setting up of this Scheme by the Federal Government followed on from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Victims of child abuse are encouraged to go to the Scheme’s website to seek redress for what they have suffered. The scheme is not all about money and there are links to many different support services. It is friendly and compassionate and the people whom we have worked with in the government offices have been very helpful.
For us as believers we can be asking “Where is God in all this?” We believe in God’s constant love and compassion but that can be tested when confronted with the pain and suffering of those who have been sexually abused. People suffer the effects of such abuse for a long time. One sign of God’s presence is seen in the courage of those who have spoken up about this. Such strength is a work of the Spirit. To be so open with some of the most devastating experiences of one’s life requires the help of God.
To ponder the truth about ourselves as Church is to know that our community is good in many ways but it is also to know that it has failed in many ways and is in need of change, of repentance. We can wonder, “How can such a community be a source of Good News? Why look to the Church for answers for my life?“
The season of Lent has a lot to teach us about sin, repentance and forgiveness. One of the biggest difficulties for all of us, I think, is that we deny what we have done. To be honest with ourselves is not easy.
If we have the courage as a Church or as an individual to admit the truth about ourselves and if we can share that truth with God we will know his compassion and love. We will personally know what the Good News means. It means freedom and healing. It means that we ourselves can be Proclaimers of Good News. We too can be missionary. This is the power of the Resurrection in our own lives and in our own Catholic community.
Fr Trevor Trotter