[Welcome Address: Abdon Josol Lecture Series, “A Wounded Church.”
Finster Hall, Feb. 8, 2019.]
It is my privilege to welcome you to the Abdon Josol Lecture for this year co-sponsored by the St. Alfonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) and ADDU.
I hope it is with great love for the Church that you come here this morning. And I hope at the end of this day, you walk away with even greater love. Many of us are identified with the Church. Some of us are old. Some of us are less old. Some of us are young. Many of you are young.
All of us are called to the profound mystery of the Church, that begins with the Father looking on a sinful world, and not turning his back on the world, not giving up on it. Instead, we know, in his love, in his compassion, he speaks a Word of love. The Word becomes flesh. The Word is incarnated into this world. The Word is God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus. His is his Father’s Word in the world speaking to us of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Love and Truth.
In our darkness, the Word was not understood; it was rejected, crucified and killed. But he was raised up by the Father. And all who believed in him were given the power to be children of God. These are his disciples, whom the Spirit forms into his Church which continues to speak the word of God’s love and compassion in our world today. These are we in the world today, responding to his love in faith, spreading his Good News to others in joy.
All of us, I presume, in reflecting on the mystery of the Trinity, the mystery of redemption, the mystery of the Church, identify with this Gospel, this God, this holiness, this compassion, this redemption, this Church.
We believe there is but one Church. It is God’s. It is holy. It is for all. It is Catholic. It is sent to sanctify and save. It is apostolic. We identify with this Church, and pray and work every day that we may serve it well. We identify with this Church. Through it, we have experienced the love of God. In it, we bring the love of God to others.
But we come here this morning also because we know this is a wounded Church. Here, we are not speaking of the Church wounded by its enemies who have drawn out it its martyrs and saints. We are speaking of the Church deeply wounded by the scandal of sex abuse in the Church involving the abuse of children and youths by clergy and religious, many of them bishops and archbishops in almost all the countries where the Catholic Church has been present: Canada, the United States, Ireland, Austria, Germany, Australia, Chile, the Philippines, to mention only some. In the internet the list of countries affected is dishearteningly long; and the cases legion. But what is sickening about this truth is that it is not just those who through the most solemn rites of our Church have been consecrated to the service of God, that is, set apart to be holy in his service, that have sunk to this level of sin, but more so the number of children and youth who have been used, abused, terrified and traumatized for life by these persons of the Church.
When we hear of this, when we learn of it, from the newspapers, from the internet, and even, sadly, from the President of the Philippines, we can only cringe in shame.
It is not the Church I want to identify with. But it is the Church I am identified with. It is the Church I have identified myself with. Or have I? It is the incarnated Church, holy and wounded, saving and sinful, the Church through which I have experienced God’s love, but also the Church itself in need of forgiveness, redemption, and love. It is a wounded Church. In need of healing. Not the healing of a band-aide which cannot cover up the gaping wounds.
But the healing that needs deep recognition of our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, our unaddressed loneliness, our dark desires, our blind compulsions, our uncontrolled power, our self-deceit, our intelligent rationalizations, our easy hypocrisy, and the willingness in humility to address the demons and evolve the culture that with God’s grace would keep ourselves and those whom we serve safe from all our culpable helplessness.
Ours is a wounded Church. And we are wounded in this Church. We identify with this Church, one, holy, Catholic, apostolic – and wounded. We come together today in Jesus’ name to understand the requirements of our hope.
We hope that our speakers today, Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liaco and Fr. Ramon Coronel, help us to hope, and to discipline ourselves in hope. For this is the wounded Church with which we identify, old or young. The Father did not turn his back on our world of sin, neither do we. He does not abandon his Church. He says, “I have called you by name. You are mine.” “I am with you always till the end of time.” “The gates of hell will not prevail against you.” “Go, and sin no more!” “Let the children come to me.” “As a mother can never forget her child, so shall I never forget you.”