'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares our God, 'plans for your welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Ash Wednesday has been celebrated and we have entered into the journey of Lent. In the spirit of the Plenary Council we are encouraged to continue to listen to the heart of our people, their voices and questions, for in these encounters - we are opened to both the darkness of suffering and the light of the resurrection.
Lent provides us with the opportunity to focus our lives on the One who has called us into life. We walk the path with Jesus as our companion. This journey from the ashes to the emergence of new life is blessed with images and Scripture passages that invite us into this season of grace. Terri McKenzie describes it as ‘A Journey from Cosmic Dust to Easter Garden’.
This Lenten Season brings with it the painful experience of the sexual abuse story in our church across the world. Here in Australia, it is a time of deep emotion as we engage and struggle with so many questions and so many feelings. We are disturbed by the stories of victims and survivors whose lives have been changed forever by the tragedy of sexual abuse within our church. There are others who are angry and grieved by all that has happened, and they find themselves questioning their commitment to the church that they have loved. They wonder how all of this could have happened.
Sr Teresa Maya, a Sister of Charity of the Word Incarnate and past president of LCWR, in her address to the American Bishops in November 2018, offers some words of wisdom for us all. She speaks of the need to listen to the heart of our people; to listen in a way that reverences a victim’s story in its truth and in a way that restores his/her dignity. She prays that those in leadership have the capacity to listen to the anger of survivors and their families and all those whose lives have been deeply affected by this reality. She reflects that there is a need to listen to the people of God, the faithful people who at this time hold so much pain, so many questions. At times it raises doubts and despondency. It requires of each one of us a deep capacity to listen with the ears of one’s heart to all these realities and to continue to believe in a future full of hope. (USCCB Reflection “Called to Communion” Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI-November 2018)
It is a time when individual heartbreak connects us to the heart-brokenness of the world. Some may ask: Where is God when our heart is breaking and suffering and it seems too much to endure? Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the children’s book called God’s Dream writes ‘Sometimes we cry and God cries with us … when we wipe away one another’s tears we wipe away God’s tears to’.
Our Christian faith reminds us that, from the ashes new life will come. Martin Luther speaks of such hopes when he reflects, “the Christian is someone, who in the face of darkness and death, goes into the garden of life to plant a tree and knows that he or she does not plant in vain.”
The only way to face any crisis is together, in communion, as sisters and brothers to one another and to stay committed to Jesus’ call to each of us, to walk with those who are broken, as he did. We must be ready to enter the culture of encounter, to sit at the table and be present to one another, recognising that our brokenness holds within it the seeds of new life. Let us open our hearts and minds to the gift that waits to awaken from this Holy Saturday time. Let us take confidence in these words of Bishop Vincent Long. ‘During this period of crisis and darkness, as the Church, let us pray that we have the courage to die to that which is contrary to the Gospel, and rise to be what Christ has called us to be’.
In our woundedness, we experience the seeds of new life pushing their way into our midst. The growing movement of the Voices of Women and the #MeToo Movement are signs of hope for women who have often been oppressed both within and beyond the church. International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the gift of all the women Religious who have lived and ministered in this country. These women are joined by women all around the world who are raising their voices and bringing about incredible change. This growing movement of solidarity is enabling women to give voice to the injustices they experience or see around them. ‘From grassroots activism to worldwide action, women are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence’. www.internationalwomensday.com/IWD2019
Throughout this Lenten journey we will encounter once again the women and men of the Gospels who like us came to know their vulnerabilities. Let us be inspired by their openness to transformation in and through their weakness. Their stories tell us that in God all things are possible. Above all, they teach us how in and through the cross, we come to know and understand the power of the Resurrection.
Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj
President, Catholic Religious Australia