by Cardinal Blase J. Cupich
The following homily was delivered at the Sept. 15 Mass closing the Novena for the Healing of the Church at Holy Name Cathedral.
Brothers and sisters, tonight we gather for the ninth and final evening of our novena to pray for healing and justice for the victims of sexual abuse. These nine days of prayer have brought together the church of Chicagoland from Mundelein to Tinley Park, Waukegan to Willow Springs. They have brought together men, women and children of diverse ethnicities and walks of life. As they have been intentional in praying for healing for all who have been victimized, they have joined in solidarity with victim-survivors in their clarion call for the whole church to face these terrible crimes and fundamentally commit to work for justice.
Yes, at this moment in the life of the church, we find ourselves in crisis, a crisis of justice for those who have been victimized by clergy, a crisis of confidence in church leaders who failed to protect those in its care, a crisis of faith in the church itself. This is a watershed moment.
The Word of God frames this time as a moment for us to answer the core questions Christians have struggled with over the ages: Who do we say Jesus is? Peter responds that Jesus is the Messiah. But, he is not a Messiah who simply comes to save the people from want, who will enrich them with everything they have ever longed for.
There is more to the Messiah than that. Jesus reveals to the disciples his painful path: He will suffer greatly, be beaten by those who are powerful, rejected by those who should have protected him. But, this Messiah is too much for them. Peter is repulsed by this Messiah and some of the disciples just choose to walk away.
This is not just the story of the first disciples. It is our story too, a story that calls us to accept the painful truth that we in the church have heaped suffering upon Jesus. Yes, we know him as our savior, as the one who has changed our lives, who abides with us in our frail humanity, frees us in the midst of oppressing forces and redeems our shameful ways.
But Jesus tells us to see him in the faces of those today who suffer greatly, who have been wounded and abused in twisted displays of power, who have been rejected by the very leaders who should have protected them, whose souls have been touched by death, whose faith in God and humanity has been shattered.
This is a moment to mature in knowing who Jesus is. He is the victim-survivor in our midst. We can see him if we look into their faces and know him if we tend their wounds — and it is well past time to stop looking away.
Peter in the Gospel reading represents the immature faith of the church, and especially the church’s leaders, who have preferred only the sunny side of the Messiah, the side that makes them feel satisfied with a worldly salvation of possessions, confident in their influence and valued by the honor given them. That is a false Messiah, a counterfeit Christianity, a compromised gospel.
Only by coming to a mature faith does Peter emerge as the head of the church on earth. Today, Peter stands in our midst in the person of his successor, Pope Francis. He is calling the church to a mature response to the question Jesus poses, by prioritizing the need to address the crime of abusive behavior by clergy and the abusive behavior of leaders who walked away from victim-survivors.
He has and will continue to remove bishops and cardinals who fail in their sacred duty to protect all people from sexual abuse. He is committed to accountability; has met with victim-survivors; and he has admitted his mistakes — “I was part of the problem,” he has said.
The Holy Father has been telling us from the beginning of his pontificate that for systemic change to happen, for a maturing of our faith to occur, the church must reject a phony Gospel of possessions, power and prestige, and follow the Suffering Servant Messiah, Jesus.
This is why this moment in the history of the church is so crucial, why it is a watershed. It is time for a mature faith, a mature answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”
Jesus is giving us another chance, to know him in the faces of victim-survivors. This question is especially directed to me and to all who serve as successors of the Apostles.
As it has been for Pope Francis, my personal visits with victim-survivors over these two decades as a bishop have served as a point of reference, a compass to keep me focused on this singular priority in the life of the church. They will continue to do so.
We now must stand with Peter, not only in addressing the issue of clerical sexual abuse, but everything that has blemished the life of the church with a false Gospel that seeks possessions, power and prestige. Jesus is giving us another chance to come to a deeper understanding and give a more mature response to his question, “Who do you say I am?”
This is the crisis before us. This is the decision we now must make.
We as a church, and especially we bishops, must decide. Will we grow up, or will we again just walk away? The answer is clear: We can never again abandon victim-survivors. We must confront the truth, confront our own failures, and act to bring healing and justice to those who have been robbed of both.
Anything less would mean we really do not know who Jesus is. Anything less would make us phony Christians.