Once again, these have been very difficult days for all of us who care deeply about the Church and the priesthood.
Once again, there have been countless reports in newspapers, periodicals, radio and television programs as well as personal conversations concerning the recent reports of sexual misconduct by priests. It is now obviously clear that the scandal is much more widespread than many would have had us believe... even touching the doorstep of the Vatican itself.
Once again, we see instant analyses, quick fixes and solutions, countless interviews, just as many inept ecclesiastical decisions, as well as many insightful commentaries, and legitimate questioning of our leadership's silence throughout it all.
Once again, the aftershocks of these scandals bring to light questions that still need to be answered.
How do we as a Church help past victims and protect children and families now and in the future? How do we protect our priests from false or unsubstantiated accusations? How do we deal with the destructive stereotypes about Church and the priesthood? How do we as a community of believers continue to focus on the magnificent joy of being heralds of the Good News of the Gospel and not be immobilized by the bad news of those who committed these crimes and of those who handled it so poorly? How can we, each of us in our own ways, serve as key factors for the Church, which is waiting to be reborn out of this current crisis?
Aftershocks are very disconcerting. They keep us living on the edge. They give us a radically new outlook on the permanency and security of physical things. They unclutter our lives very swiftly, effectively, and sometimes very painfully. They open our eyes and let us see how fragile we really are.
In the midst of all of this, we are now invited to celebrate the Fifty days of Easter - fifty days because this one event cannot be captured in a single day - fifty days to let the aftershock of this incredible event vibrate in our minds and hearts and spirits. The aftershocks of Christ's Resurrection should loosen up the tight grip of our self-centeredness and hard-heartedness. They should shake us up, and rock the foundations of the fortress we have built for our complacency, our prejudice, our fears, our spitefulness, and our passing judgment on others. They should open our hearts and remind us once again that even after 2000 years there is so much left to do.
The impact of Easter, in the early Church, and hopefully again in our time, is for believers to gather, to be together to contemplate the mystery of the Lord's resurrection, to let it touch minds and hearts, and to reaffirm for us, once again, that we do not live - we cannot live - in isolation.
The special sense of Community brought about by the Resurrection was very tangible in the apostolic church. We read about common living, sharing of common goals and goods, and a great concern that none of the believers should be left alone or in need.
The Gospel incident with Thomas also highlights this same sense of community. The disciples gathered together, partly in fear and wonder, and partly because they needed each other's support. When Jesus appeared to them, He offered them His gift of peace, and urged them to make mutual forgiveness the very first sign of their faith in the resurrection.
Thomas was absent on that occasion, so when he joined them they shared their experience of the Risen Lord. Interestingly, Thomas not only doubted the reality of the event, but he would not accept the testimony of his brothers. Imagine how frustrating and almost insulting that must have been for the other apostles.
Thomas was so sure of himself. He would not be touched by their communal witness; he insisted on personal, direct proof. Only when Jesus invited him to touch the wounds of His hands and feet, did Thomas proclaim his faith. And Jesus simply says: "Blessed are they who have not seen, yet have believed." p> There's a very important lesson here about the role of the community. Many, many people insist on personal proof; they will not learn from their brothers and sisters; they want somehow to touch the mystery of God directly. They want to "own" the mystery, to be the champions of the truth - as they see it.
Jesus reaches out to all of us as he did Thomas and reminds us all: "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe." Jesus wants us to be together with those who share their faith, so that we can be strengthened, consoled, and nourished. The Risen Lord clearly invites all of us to be evangelists, to give powerful, personal and communal witness to our faith, and so to lead many others out of the prison of their aloneness into the joy-filled, peace-filled, and forgiveness-filled community of faith that is the reality of Church.
Scripture reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus brings these gifts of peace and joy; and the mission of forgiveness. It also captures the early skepticism of Thomas, and certainly that of many others with him. There are those who will always need in some way to touch the wounds of the Risen Christ in order to come to faith and understanding. They will rely on their own opinions and demand some physical proof. Others will become aware of His presence and power in ways that transcend the senses and conventual wisdom. Like Thomas, they will discover the reality of Jesus in and through the community.
Faith in the resurrection of Jesus means much more than just believing that He has come back to life. It means that He has overcome death forever; that in His humanity He has moved to a state of existence that is beyond space and time. It means that we dispense with childish, earthbound images of Jesus as having a shiny body suspended somewhere in space, floating triumphantly somewhere between heaven and earth.
It also means that we come to a deeper understanding of what Church really is - especially now, in these extraordinary times. Jesus rises to new life to bring to perfection His work of redemption. He rises to continue to teach, to heal, to forgive, to commission until the end of time, and He does that in and through His Body the Church. As one priest put it: "You and I are the Church. We cannot, we must not fail each other. We may need a renewed birth of the Church and dramatic changes in policies and practices. That is not a bad thing. Sadly, it may have taken this awful crisis to make this happen."
As we look toward Pentecost, let us pray that the Spirit of the Risen Lord breathe into our hearts a burning desire to be faithful witnesses to His Easter Light and Joy. Let us pray that our fears and anxieties may give way to the peace and comfort that only hope in Him can bring.
Finally, let us pray that our anger and our frustration not lead us into doubt, but rather be transformed - allowing us to become instruments of justice, as well as forgiveness and reconciliation, removing the bonds that enslave and separate us from one another.