26th Sunday B
September 26th, 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“But anyone who is an obstacle to bring one of
these little ones who have faith…”
These verses from St. Mark’s Gospel are jolting and disturbing to listen to – they are strong and forceful almost sounding vengeful and violent. They sound shocking on the lips of Jesus.
Without wishing to blunt their sharpness it is important to give them context. First, they come from a section of St. Mark that has a focus on the coming of the Reign of God or the Kingdom of God. Secondly, they have the character of hyperbole – of over statement – OTT – in order to make a point. In our day to day experience we speak of hype. As I say I do not want to blunt the edge of what Jesus is saying.
In Jesus’ day the child, the little ones had no legal status so they were especially vulnerable. And they are spoken of the little ones who have faith/trust. They have it naturally. To abuse that trust in anyway is a sin of the gravest kind. Sadly, we know the profound injury that has been inflicted on the little ones who placed their trust in adults whom they believed cared for them.
In terms of the Church, the community of disciples of Jesus, have been found wanting in our witness and care. We usually speak of abuse of children and the vulnerable when some major story is focused on in media. It is important for us who are committed disciples of Christ Jesus to acknowledge the true nature and extent of what has been unveiled, and to do so without the frenzy of a specific media event.
It is now almost 30 years since the accounts of past abuse first emerged. Abuse can be psychological, physical, sexual or emotional. The range and levels of abuse are on a wide spectrum with both personal and institutional agency. The damage and hurt caused is still unfolding. We are still at the recrimination stage.
What has the Church done over these decades? It has a National Safeguarding Board funded by the dioceses and religious of Ireland but operating independently as an organisation. It also has set up a counselling service called Towards Healing with its own independent board. Many millions of euro has gone towards supporting both organisations, one to set standards and oversee them and Towards Healing to assist victims and survivors. For some critics of the Church nothing that is done by way of healing and support will never be enough.
I know some of us get really angry with the relentless criticism that is heaped on really good people who seek to make amends for the failures of the past. We must live with that, patient genuine witness will win out in the end.
Whatever has happened in the past, we would be very naïve to believe that no abuse is happening in the present, and we know that some family settings are especially vulnerable. Vigilance is really important in our schools and clubs, where often the first signs of vulnerability of a little one can be detected. What on one level is marvellous, the iPhone has its dark side in which really evil people exploit the vulnerable and innocent and wreak psychological and emotional havoc in the minds of many little ones. I appeal to parents to go to great lengths to use the same technology to protect their own little ones from the menace of pornography and exploitation of the innocent.
Jesus speaks to us very plainly about our responsibility.
“Anyone who is an obstacle to these little
ones who have faith …
Would be better thrown into the sea
with a great milestone ‘round his neck”
Despite the reputational damage to the Church, we must never underestimate the hurt and damage done by well-intentioned but misfocused care of those in institutional settings. Equally, we need to acknowledge the deep wounds inflicted on the little ones who had faith.
We pray constantly for forgiveness and healing.