Friday, December 3, 2010

A Bishop Speaks

On having an attitude of contrition as the Christ Child approaches. To quote Bishop Dr. Franz-Josef Bode:
A reading from the Book of Ezra (Ezra 9, 5-8 RSV-CE)
And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle rent, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God, saying:
"O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt; and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hands of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as at this day. But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant, and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage.
"Here we are, Lord, Holy Spirit. / Here we are, burdened with sin, / but gathered here solely in Your name. / Come in our midst, / be with us, / pour yourself in our hearts!" This is how the Church prays at the beginning of a council or gathering, according to a tradition that's over a thousand years old. Today, we can also pray in this way in these turbulent times, because we are entering after a devastating year a new liturgical year.
Ezra's words are even older, which we can, we even have to internalize the "I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads"
Yes, these strong words are fitting this evening. We cannot go on the road to Christmas without taking anything with us what we learned in the past months:
  • the suffering from victims from abuse and violence
  • the guilt of the perpetrators
  • the darkness and the shadowy side of a church in which an atmosphere could be found which enabled obfuscation of the crimes.
  • all painful experiences in which situations of trust have been abused by corporal and mental violence, the Gospel being twisted into the opposite.
    Those who learned about some acts by reading letters or reports, who has listened to victims struggling to find words for it or has seen the burden they are carrying for the rest of their lives, who has seen what happened without looking the other way, those cannot do anything else but present themselves in front of the Lord. What individuals acting in the name of the Church did to the young, very young people, has to be discussed in front of God. Only in front of his eyes, when He is looking at us, in His presence, can we find out what happened in our church.
    Therefore I ask the victims once again for forgiveness. And we want the counselling, we want to work it out, to offer real help and exhaust all options. But in the end the damage cannot be repaired fully. We have to give it up to God. These acts must not poison the climate in the church any more, where they could happen undiscovered.
    Ten years ago, at Palm Sunday, I performed, as a bishop, an act of penance in the Dom of Osnabrück following the gesture of Pope John Paul II. Back then I didn't realise how much it was needed. Tonight we must go a step further into the "Cleansing of Conscience", which the Pope talked about back then. We confess the same "structural sins" in the Church, which also enabled abuse here and which has made discovery very difficult and even prevented it.
    This is why I will stand at the bottom step of the sanctuary in a moment as a bishop, alone in my responsibility as a bishop, but with everybody's prayers in my back, like we always pray during the Confiteor: "I ask to you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God."
    I will pray the Prayer of Penance alone to the Triune God, which is something different and more at the same time as asking the victims or the public for forgiveness. It is holding up the dark shadows in the shadow of the Cross suspended over us, in which all our shadows are lifted up, because Christ has carried all sins and has suffered all the victims' sufferings.
    Only He can transform them in grace and healing, in future and hope for all. The wounds of mankind are in the end only healed by His wounds. "But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God," says Ezra. God can now transform the sorrow and devastation in strength. He who has the power to raise the dead; the power to change us by giving Himself in the signs of bread and wine. The reading for this first Sunday of Advent from the prophet Isaiah speaks of "beat their swords into ploughshares". 'Beating' our failures in new possibilities is something only God can do in the end.
    Only by such a transformation is our desire to only do good, living truthfully, being transparent and pure made possible. The "Cleansing Consciousness" means to forget nothing what happened, but to see it as a purifying, cleansing experience for the future. Everything we do at this moment are signs of change and renewal we want in our diocese: providing new ways of dealing with the crimes, more preventive measures, more tangible help for the victims and to have real dialogues inward and outward in a listening and humble Church.
    Dear sisters and brothers,
    Making our way into Advent, in a new liturgical year, is a good moment to be open to God about the past and accept the challenges of the present in order to shape the future with the power of the Holy Spirit. We experience how, especially now, Christ's redemption is not something that has happened to us in the past, but also is something happening in the future.
    Therefore we may stress it in our Advent songs this year, which contain the word "Come!" so often. In the same way in the longing prayer to the Holy Spirit, the Pentecost Sequence, which we sing in a moment.
    Let us keep the first stanza of the Advent hymn we sang at the beginning of this service in our hearts. In the middle of the atrocities of the Thirty Year War (1618-1648), Friedrich von Spee wrote:

    Where dost thou tarry, comforter of the whole world,
    On whom she places all her hope?
    O come, ah come from the most exalted hall,
    Come comfort us here in the valley of sorrow.
    O clear sun, thou beautiful star,
    We much desire to behold thee.
    O sun, rise, for without thy light
    We are all in darkness.


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