Wednesday, June 19, 2024

‘Go to the Wounds to Experience the Resurrection,’ Bishop Says at Mass for Survivors of Sexual Abuse

In a solemn Mass filled with compassion and prayers among messages of hope and support, Bishop Timothy Senior expressed heartfelt sorrow and apologized to survivors of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and said transformation and healing can begin when we “go to the wounds” of survivors.

In a visible sign of support, nearly 40 priests of the Diocese joined the bishop in the celebration of the Mass for Hope and Healing on Tuesday evening, September 19, at St. Catherine Labouré Church in Harrisburg. The inaugural Mass offered the people of the Diocese an opportunity to come together to pray for and support survivors, several of whom attended the solemn liturgy.

“It must be said every time: something terrible happened at the hands of ministers of the Church, something that should never have happened,” the bishop said at the start of his homily. “It is never the fault or the weakness of the most vulnerable. We say it again, and I know my brother priests share this with me, especially: we are terribly, terribly sorry.”

“The celebration of the Eucharist tonight in particular gives us a moment to pause and say, ‘What does God want to do and continue to do in each of our hearts?’” Bishop Senior said.

God has grace for each of us, and His Word helps us open up to what it might be, the bishop said. He echoed the Responsorial Psalm, “With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption,” and pointed to St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, from the First Reading that evening: “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

St. Paul’s message of Christ’s victory over sin and death, the bishop said, are powerfully conveyed by Jesus Himself when He meets Thomas after the Resurrection. When Thomas doubts and insists to touch the wounds himself, Jesus says, “Peace, be with you.”

“Jesus’ presence is always peace. His presence is always healing and reconciliation. … Thomas’s struggle is not too much for Jesus,” Bishop Senior said.

“I think Jesus was saying that we need to go to the wounds to experience the Resurrection,” he said. “When Jesus comes to the apostles, the first thing he does is show them His hands and His side. He shows them the wounds from the cross, the wounds of His own body that took on the wounds of sin, pain and suffering. He took it all, and yet he is alive. He has triumphed over it. In allowing Thomas to touch the wounds, He says, ‘This is how we get to a new reality in the Resurrection…. Go to the wounds. That’s where transformation can begin.”

“It was the courage of survivors of sexual abuse who came forward and challenged the Church to say, ‘We have to bring new life and renewal and change to our Church, in every dimension. Fruit will come from it, grace will come and healing will happen,’” the bishop said.

“In a very spiritual way tonight, especially for those who are here: Touch the wounds. Touch the wounds that you carry,” the bishop encouraged the congregation. “In doing so, we find, as Thomas did, Jesus risen from the dead…. Thomas is transformed by seeing and acknowledging the wounds. Who would have wanted to do that? Would we have shied away? Yet, that’s where the healing begins.”

Replete with hymns and Scripture passages on mercy, hope, light and redemption, the Mass for Hope and Healing evoked sincere, visible emotion from many in the congregation.

“Michael,” a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, expressed appreciation “that Bishop Senior would celebrate a Mass for hope and healing for people who have gone through the experience of abuse so soon among his official acts here.”

Speaking with The Witness on condition of anonymity, “Michael” said he felt shame and guilt and the pain of not being believed by his parents when he was abused as a teenager.

“I fell away from the Church for about five years because of it, but then in a very circuitous way I came back. I finally figured out that one person doesn’t make the entire Church, and that I shouldn’t give up on the entire Church just because of what that one person did. That’s when I came back and got involved again, and it’s been very good for me because it helped me to get some closure.”

Michael said he was moved by the bishop’s homily and compassion, and was particularly stirred by the selection of Psalm 130 for the Responsorial: “With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.”

“It is one of my favorite Psalms, and its first line is something I constantly used to say: “Out of the depths.”

“We have to look for all the good there is, and shine a light on it,” Michael said. “I would encourage other survivors who are seeking healing to speak to a psychologist, speak to a priest, speak to someone close to you – whatever it takes to find healing.”

“I think the Mass was a tremendous help,” he said. “As I looked at the congregation, I had to wonder how many other survivors were here,” he said. “Because we are here in the Church. I think there are probably more of us who came back than have turned away.”

    For information about the Diocese’s youth protection program, visit  www.hbgdiocese.org/safeyouth/.

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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