Saturday, April 9, 2011

4th Sunday of Lent: Untie Him and Let Him Go

The late Senator Joseph McCarthy, a fervent anti-Communist and a populist or demagogue (depending on your political leanings), is probably the most infamous person from Appleton, Wisconsin. The most famous is likely the great illusionist and master escape artist Harry Houdini. People in the early part of the 20th century were thrilled when they witnessed this small but strong and agile man bound hand and foot with locks and chains and thrown into a river… only to emerge a few minutes later not only alive but freed of his shackles.

Houdini’s shackles were self-imposed for the purposes of entertainment and making money. Some of us also have self-imposed shackles, though we may be unaware of them or deny their existence: addiction, self-doubt, ignorance, etc. We have the capacity to be free ourselves--with God’s help--but choose instead to drown in our chains because we are inhibited by fear, laziness, lack of faith or hope, or the insistence that we do it our way.

Some of us have shackles that are imposed by others or circumstances, including abuse, neglect, accident, or disability. We can also be freed of these but we, too, can be impeded by those same powerful forces of fear, inertia, skepticism or despair, and pride. Whatever the source of our shackles, Jesus wants us to be free; but he needs our cooperation. He bids us to come out of our tombs, to be unbound and set free; but sometimes we choose to stay put. Sometimes, tragically and maddeningly, we choose to stay dead.

This past week, I was blessed to participate in an extraordinary conference sponsored by Marquette University Law School’s Restorative Justice Initiative: “Harm, Hope, and Healing: An International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis.” The conference brought together victims/survivors, academics, bishops, priests, therapists, attorneys, doctors, counselors, and others to address this issue, which remains an unhealed wound for many inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church.

Through the two days of panel presentations, reflections, prayer services, statistical overviews, and question-and-answer sessions some common themes emerged: the need for greater truth and transparency about what has happened; the desire for a broader and deeper consideration of who has been harmed; and the search for what can be done to repair the harm, particularly in light of the sobering realization that twenty-five years of addressing these issues chiefly through litigation has brought about very little healing, reconciliation, or perhaps even justice.

I came away from the conference hopeful and frightened—hopeful that it might spur some creative and even daring initiatives and programs and frightened that pride, fear, ignorance, anger, and other forces may keep us in the tomb, still bound-up, stinking, and dead. One of the “take-aways” of the conference for me was that while the agitation for change is coming from many places inside and outside the church, the place where the change must occur most profoundly is in those of us who have been called to leadership: bishops, priests, and religious superiors.

Can we be freed of the seduction of the clericalism which leads to abuses of power? Are we willing to share and in some cases hand over some of our authority to lay men and women? Are we ready to call out sin when we see it rather than trying to avoid dealing with it or worse, trying to cover it up? Can we face the reality that while professing to live in the Spirit we have too often lived according to the flesh?

The answers to these questions may seem self-evident; but in practice they have been harder to discern or own. When you dwell in the tomb long enough you can get used to the stench. It only becomes evident when the stone is rolled away and the fresh air enters in.

The promise that God made centuries ago through Ezekiel to the people of Israel is the promise that God makes to the Church today:

“I will open your graves, have you rise, and bring you back. I will put my spirit in you, that you may live.”

The psalmist’s pledge is renewed for us:

“With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”

The assurance that St. Paul gave to the early church of Rome echoes through the ages to the Roman Church today:
“If the Spirit of the one who raised Christ from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will bring life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
The call of Jesus to Lazarus is his call to the church today: “Come out (of your tomb)!” His command then is our duty now: “Untie him and let him go.”

Lord Jesus, our resurrection and our life, come to us, renew us, and set us free! +