02 April 2010

Bringing hope to Easter

Carrying the Cross ... a scene from the Passion Play in Ballylinan in Co Laois, photographed by Alan Benson in today’s edition of The Irish Times

The Irish Times, in today’s edition [2 April 2010], publishes this editorial comment:

Bringing hope
to Easter

Since the publication of Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, most commentators and critics have focused on his reaction to the present abuse scandal that is tearing apart the Catholic Church in Ireland, and on the many bewildering silences in his letter. His letter failed to meet the expectation of the victims of abuse – and of many faithful Catholics – but it also contained timely reminders of the significance and relevance of the Gospel message that is at the heart of this season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

In that part [of his letter] addressed to “the victims of abuse and their families,” Pope Benedict reminds them that “Christ’s own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of his self-sacrificing – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning.” He tells those “priests and religious who have abused children” that “Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins.” And he tells “the children and young people of Ireland” that Christ loves them and “has offered himself on the cross for you.”

These are age-old beliefs that are at the heart of Christianity and it was seasonally appropriate that they should be re-told and reiterated only days ahead of the great Paschal solemnities. But it is also at the heart of the message of Good Friday and Easter that all Christians are crucified with Christ and that all who believe can find hope in the Resurrection. At the heart of Christian faith is the belief that the church is the Body of Christ, as Saint Paul says throughout his Epistles. Indeed, he is so explicit about this, that in some versions of the New Testament he says “we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones” (Ephesians 5: 30).

Baptism is incorporation into the Body of Christ, and the Eucharist is not only a memorial of Christ’s death but a real sacrament or sign of the Body of Christ. These apostolic and sacramental teachings are reminders that when members of the Church are injured – when innocent members of the Church are abused – Christ himself is wounded and assaulted once again, as truly as he was crucified on Good Friday. It is for these very reasons that the present crisis for the Catholic Church is truly what the word crisis means – it brings the church to the very cross of decision-making. The Body of Christ has been tortured, abused and forced to face the crucifixion of Good Friday constantly and perpetually across the world.

But Good Friday is meaningless for Christians without faith and joy in the Resurrection. That resurrection hope is for new life, new joy and renewed justice. Pope Benedict – however inadequately – has responded to the sufferings of the Body of Christ. But he and the bishops of the church need also to bring Easter hope to many. And that can only be brought through decisive, firm and resolute action. Otherwise, the stone remains rolled across the tomb, and, like the women who came to the grave on the first Easter morning, many will weep and wonder what they have done with the body of Christ.

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