The Abuse Scandal, Peter’s Denial, and Pointing at the Moon

This homily was given on the Tuesday of Holy Week based on the Gospel reading for the day: Peter’s Denial of Jesus. The text can be read here.

A few days ago, I was talking on the phone with somebody who had told me once that a Catholic priest had abused him when he was a child.  He had just begun to get some peace about it, but all of the new allegations over the past few weeks in Ireland and Germany really kicked up these feelings again… because for him it wasn’t just the abuse, it was the cover up that happened at a larger level.  All of his anger and frustration at the Church came roaring back.  And as he spoke I was reminded of today’s Gospel reading.

Betrayal_PeterPeter’s denial of Jesus is a story that is contained in all four Gospels; scholars estimate that the Gospels were written sometime between 30 to 60 years after the death of Jesus.  But what is fascinating is that none of the gospels cover up this humongous failure of one of their leaders.  In fact, this flaw is brought to the forefront of the Gospels for all of the world to see.  That the human stone on which the church rests is simply that… human.

A Buddhist reflection offers that, “all instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the pointer will never see beyond. Even let him catch sight of the moon, and still he cannot see its beauty.”  The same can be said for our Church – because it can be so big and so wonderful, it can be easy to mistake the finger for the moon, which of course we understand as the Son, Christ.  But this is why when a wart is discovered on the finger, often the reaction is to try to cover it up, to deny it… because it’s presence is too threatening for those only looking at the finger.  This dynamic is one of the reasons why the Early Christians included all of their own flaws, to make sure that our attention would be focused on Christ and not on themselves.

finger-moon-hoteiAs we have been reading in the newspapers this week, it turns out that the finger of our church does have a couple of warts; consequentially there have been a lot of attacks in the press.  Some of the attacks have come from people who are genuinely looking for the truth; others come from those who have had a long standing grudge against the Catholic Church and this recent scandal is just ammunition to fuel their own biases and prejudices.  But whatever the motivation, it does not take away from the fact that our Church has major flaws to contend with right now.

Consequently, we will need the grace of Christ that our church points to so that the healing can begin… for those directly hurt by the abuse crisis like my friend, for those of us who feel betrayed, as well as for those who have played a direct part in this scandal, whomever they may be.  The process of healing will likely be difficult.  As Peter found out in today’s gospel, facing the truth usually is.  Many will want to run away from it.  Many will want to deny it.

So as our Lenten journey enters its final days, we turn our eyes to Christ.  We ask for God’s extra protection for those who have been hurt and those who feel betrayed by this scandal.  We ask Christ to shine his light even more brightly on our wounded finger so that we better know how to repair it.  And we ask for the courage to face the truth of our flaws—both as individuals and as a church—so that we can all fully receive the grace of God’s healing.