Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Signs of Penance
Yes, the gospel tells us to pray in private, to fast with a smile, to give alms in secret: to avoid the yeast of the Pharisees.
There is very human need to do penance, and a need to see others do penance. Justice seems to demand public sins need public atonement, faults need to be admitted, restitution needs to be made: justice need to be done and seen to be done.
Reading the Irish papers there seems to be a great deal of dissappointment, even anger over the Pope's meeting with their bishops. The people wanted blood, heads, resignations, condemnations, humilliations and got nothing. Words like "charade", "hypocrisy", "loss of credibility" feature in reports.
Let me be brave, it being Ash Wednesday, it would appear that the sexual abuse by Irish clergy was and is actually much lower than in the rest of Irish society. The name of the Irish abuse organisation, "One in Four", says it all, a quarter of Irish people according to them are the victims of abuse, the Catholic Church and clergy in Ireland despite its great faults are not responsible for that, sexual and physical abuse are part of Irish culture, if "One in Four" is correct in its claims. I suspect rather than drawing open the lace curtains on Irish society it is easier to cast the Church out into the wilderness. Holy Church becomes an icon of rejected Irish belief, this is why the Pope can speak of the problem being about a loss of faith. The Irish bishops have indeed become the scapegoat bearing the sins of the nation, indeed that is not an idea that is estranged from the priesthood. The priest not only stands in the place of Christ but also of the people.
Fr Sean has an interesting post, he suggests the Irish love heroes, he is right but Irish heroes are those like Parnell, raised to the heights and then thrown to the mob, I think it is a Celtic thing, maybe it is why the Cross rather than the Resurrection has been so much part of Irish spirituality. Whatever it is, Fr Sean is quite right, sorrow, appology, repentance is not enough, there is a need for public penance, the Irish public want their heirarchs "to cry out between the vestibule and the altar", not only for their own sins but for the sins of the nation. Whether it is fasting and sleepless nights in Lough Derg, or penitential processions of scourged barefoot bishops in O'Connell Street, the Irish want and need something more than they have been given so far.
Embarrassment, shame and confusion are very human emotions and were it just politicians who are objects of such public contempt and ire these might be enough but it is bishops, the Church, more is needed, the recognition not only that a "crime" has taken place but also "sins" have been committed which cry out before the throne of God.
What signs are the bishops giving that they are making atonement before God, that there is even an understanding that God is offended?
Are they faithless? From the signs so far: yes!
Posted by Fr Ray Blake