Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 27, 2022: Reflection on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32, Part II reflection on sexual abuse, Art

Dear Believers in the Christ,

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 is proclaimed on this Fourth Sunday of Lent. The story of the Prodigal Son is familiar to us and those we love. Each of the characters helps us reflect upon reconciliation, forgiveness, duty, and perseverance. The reason for this text in the Lenten season is to explore our relationship with Jesus Christ. It also shows us that God’s forgiveness is not limited to our spiritual lives but becomes manifest in our families as well.  

I start with the person in the family that is not mentioned in the text. I want to watch the mother overlook this scene. Perhaps she is watching the unfolding of this moment as her husband races down the road to greet her youngest son. I wonder if she is standing at the kitchen window, peeling potatoes over a bucket, with her eyes glued to the path down by the road. She wipes away the tears dripping into the potato water as she sees the moment where her husband clutches her son. This moment speaks so boldly about what she desires among all her family members. Perhaps, she waits for her husband to embrace her in the same manner. She waits in the kitchen to speak to her husband about what it is like to forgive their son.  

I wonder if the younger son ran off before. Is this typical of him or is it new? I would love to know the back story of the reasons for his journey. I wonder if his father and mother had to wait along the path before to welcome him home. Is their forgiveness tired from always reaching out to the younger son? Their faith still ignites forgiveness and harmony towards this young son.

The father seems solid in his love. As a Jew, he doesn’t run. To run after the younger son in the story is beyond cultural limits. His love is extravagant. I know this reflects the love God has for each of us. In my own heart, I wait for God to run toward me in my awkwardness, in my illusions of self-sufficiency. 

The oldest son is hardened by his inflexible sense of duty. The oldest knows the rules of the game. He resents his brother for always getting attention from the father. I wonder if the older son will ever heal. I wonder if he will be the next one to leave the family or if harmony will exist under the long beard of the father’s kindness and steadfastness. 

From the characters of this story, to whom do you most relate? At what point in your life are you like either of the two sons? At what point in your family history have you waited at the window for your lost child or when have you run down the road to embrace him or her? 

I also wonder how you might translate this story into your life of faith. When have you been lost? Perhaps it was because of greed or arrogance or thinking that your family just doesn’t appreciate you because you are different. Perhaps you have been lost in drugs or alcohol or lost in depression or anger? Perhaps your family has shunned a gay son or lesbian daughter. Perhaps the black sheep has never found a healthy way to live under the same roof within the family. How do any of these circumstances allow room in our hearts for God to love us? How do you limit your thoughts about God’s fidelity toward you?

In this Lenten season, God races toward us with open arms and breathes words of forgiveness within our hearts. Nothing keeps God from accepting those who need such tenderness. No matter our anguish, no matter our sin or separation, God is on the path to welcome us. 

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

—Continued from last week—

On March 3-5, 2022, I participated in a conference at the University of Notre Dame entitled, Healing, Accountability and Trust: Conversations in Theology, Psychology and Law for the Life of the Church. I was a presenter with two other preachers on the topic entitled, Preaching in and for a Wounded Community. 

The conference was designed by the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology with the assistance of several grants. The conference had been postponed for over two years due to the pandemic. Thirty-five speakers in groups of three presented various aspects of the abuse crisis for people in pastoral life, students, professional therapists, trauma specialists, and professors.  

I am not an expert on systems of power, abuse, or trauma. However, I have personal experience as a preacher ministering among God’s beloved, and as an adolescent who experienced a web of grooming and manipulation. Here are some questions people have asked about the conference. In the coming weeks, I will offer a link to the conference on our website so the public may listen to the actual conference. 

Again, these are my words and not the words of the professionals. In this short piece, I make sweeping statements. This is a summary and not exact scientific facts. I say this because I do not want any person to be hurt by my interpretations of the words from the many professionals who spoke at Notre Dame. 

Q: Fr. Ron, what is the role of “power” in clergy sexual abuse and assault? 

A: This is another question only professionals can adequately answer. Abuse is about power, not sex. Most people think the crisis is only a sexual crisis. The asymmetrical power structures within the church create a system where clergy can abuse people who have less power, status, and authority. Clergy have been held in high esteem through the years. Their authority allows them trust over young people or adults. This authority may easily turn to dominance, manipulation, and deceit. When a priest takes advantage of vulnerable children or adults, the temptation for abuse is evident. 

Clergy may struggle with human maturity, integrating their sexualities within a call to be celibate. The immaturity of the priest is also a factor in relationships of such ill-formed power structures. Power is very seductive for the priest who may face much loneliness and despair within his vocation. Much work needs to happen within the church concerning these issues of authority, power, and clerical privilege. 

Q: Fr. Ron, aren’t homosexuals to blame for the abuse crisis? 

A: The best indicator of abuse is whether the seminarian or priest was abused as a child or teen. The man’s sexual identity does not determine if he will be an abuser. Our children have been abused by heterosexual and homosexual men. The trauma of his past is what indicates potential abuse. We must not scapegoat homosexual men as potential abusers. 

Q: Fr. Ron, do we have a one-size-fits-all approach to helping people recover from abuse?

A: I hope not. I heard many times during the conference, “if you meet a survivor, you have met only one survivor.” This means that every victim/ survivor is unique in the story of abuse and what is needed for recovery and health. I think this is extremely important for people to understand. Therefore, the process of recovery and healing is so challenging for society and the church. Our posture toward the victim is always listening and always discerning what is needed for that individual. This is the justice that is required by God. 

Another aspect of recovery is language. I was so struck at the conference that language is a real obstacle in our various disciplines for recovery. Therapists, lawyers, and theologians all have various definitions of words, concepts, and ways to recover. We need work in this area for our future to get to recovery for every individual. We need new ways to think about and to articulate much of the work that is being accomplished. 

Q: Fr. Ron, what gives you hope? 

A: After the first day, I woke up the next morning feeling incredible gratitude in my body. I look to lay Catholics for the answers, not the clergy. Psychologists, lawyers, trauma specialists, academics, and healers are all working together to heal people devasted by clergy abuse. Lay people bear the weight on their shoulders for the sex crimes of the clergy. This gives me great pause, yet I am extremely grateful for all the ways we are advancing our notions of healing. We have come a long way, yet I beg God every day with my hands clasped to heal the people tormented by the hands of my brothers. 

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you believe that a child is being abused, please contact the Colorado Child Abuse Reporting Hotline at 1-844-CO-4-KIDS. Anyone witnessing a child in a life-threatening situation should call 911 immediately. 

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