"Everything about Sonia seemed to him stranger and more wonderful every moment. He carried the book to the candle and began to turn over the pages. 'Where is the story of Lazarus? he asked." --Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Death had been defeated here. And Stefan believed he had been privileged to witness a fulfillment of the promise which was at the root of the Church's existence: Death will not last. 'Unto you shall be given life everlasting.' Tears rose in the priest's eyes." --Strangers by Dean Koontz
Bottom line: This Sunday we stand before dry bones, the dead man's tomb. We are powerless to give life back - but through Jesus we can revive.
Perhaps you saw the 60 Minutes interview of Archbishop Dolan. The interviewer asked him about the clergy abuse scandal which seems to go on and on. Archbishop Dolan responded:
"In some ways, I don't want it to be over. This was such a crisis in the Catholic Church that in a way, we don't want to get over it too easily. This needs to haunt us."
Today's readings tell about the Prophet Ezekiel contemplating a valley of dry bones and Jesus standing before the grave of his friend Lazarus. Neither were pretty sights. The dry bones represented the people of Israel, brought low by their own sins. Before God could raise them up, they had to face the reality of what they had done.
Lazarus, beloved by the Lord, now lay four days in the grave. As his sister, Martha, said, "By now there will be a stench." The Israelites did not embalm their dead and in that climate, the body decomposed rapidly. The smell is sickening.
So it is also with the crisis we have undergone. As Archbishop Dolan said, the abuse by priests and some bishops' efforts to cover it up was, "nothing less than hideous, nothing less than nauseating." It is certainly the greatest crisis we have faced in the American Catholic Church.
In the long history of our Church, we have, however, confronted greater crises. G.K. Chesterton wrote about the Five Deaths of the Faith. He describes five times when the Church seemed on the brink of extinction. But just when the world had written her off, she experienced an astonishing revival. The Church seemed like a shell. Fathers had grown slack in the faith, said Chesterton, but then to everyone's surprise, their sons became fanatical for the faith.
In recent years I have gotten know many of our young priests. We certainly need to pray for them and support them. Their task is not easy, but they have a determination, an intensity that I did not see so strongly in my generation.
And they have learned from some of our pitfalls. Here in the Archdiocese of Seattle we have not had a new clergy abuse case since the late eighties. Like most dioceses in the country, we have had strong leadership once the issue became clear to the bishops.* Unfortunately, in places like Boston and Philadelphia they kept reassigning abusive priests into the nineties - and in some cases, beyond. They have become the lens through which all dioceses are viewed. It may not be totally fair, but what happened - especially in the sixties and seventies - was so repulsive that as Archbishop Dolan said, "This needs to haunt us." A corporate guilt weighs on us. The prophet Ezekiel tells us not to run from it, but to look it in the face. It reminds us where our hope and strength lie.
This Sunday we stand before the dried bones, a dead man's tomb. We are powerless to give life back - but through Jesus we can revive. Amen.
*In comparison with other institutions, e.g. public schools, an objective observer would have to admit that the Catholic Church is the safest place in Western Washington for children and adoloscents.
From Archives (Year A homilies for Fifth Sunday of Lent):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)
Q&A about Planned Parenthood
Another sting by Live Action: Planned Parenthood: "We're Mostly a Surgical Facility"
An Audio Lenten Retreat by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain (thirteen talks, 10 to 15 minutes long, on topics such as temptation, grudges, surrender, mercy, etc. - well worth listening to)
Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastor. (For pdf format click here)
Background for presentation on "Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith": High School Course – World Civilization - Section on origins of Christianity. (For pdf format click here)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru