In light of the recent abuse and cover-up crisis, Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wrote a letter to the “Pilgrim People of God in Chile.” He acknowledges the grievous sins of certain members of the Church, encourages Christians to hope in Christ’s forgiveness, and exhorts all the faithful to participate in the ever-needed conversion which the Gospel demands from the pilgrim Church. In one section, Pope Francis reflects on the wounds of Christ and of the Church:
Let us never forget that Jesus Christ risen presents himself to his own with his wounds. Moreover, it is precisely from his wounds that Thomas can confess his faith. We are invited to not dissimulate, hide, or cover over our wounds.
A wounded Church is able to understand and be moved by the wounds of today’s world, make them its own, suffer them, accompany them and move to heal them. A wounded Church does not put itself at the center, does not think it is perfect, does not seek to cover up and dissimulate its evil, but places there the only one who can heal the wounds … He has a name: Jesus Christ.
The Holy Father’s words challenge us who are in the Church, who love and defend her, to remember the mystery of her holiness and her members’ sinfulness. The Church indeed is holy, because Christ, her head and redeemer, is the Holy One of God. Like Christ, the Church suffers from evil caused by agents outside her—the Enemy, persecutors, slanderers. In going through this Passion, she and her members are purified and conformed more to Jesus.
But unlike Jesus, the Church also experiences evils from within. Her members, though baptized into Christ, too often turn back to sin. We have fallen inclinations that move us away from loving God and neighbor. In ways great and small, we harm one another. The wounds that result are particularly painful and hard to heal. Being harmed by a fellow Christian or by a shepherd of the flock makes it difficult to trust in God, let alone the Church.
As members of the Church, we can respond to our wounds in two ways. We can pretend they are not there, that the Church community on earth here and now is spotless. If we do so, the wounded members of the Church cannot begin to recover, and we will do a disservice to the Gospel. But if we humbly admit to our individual and communal faults and turn to God and neighbor asking for mercy, then the Lord Jesus, who was wounded for our sins, can continue his healing work in us. Then we can say trustingly to Christ and to his mystical body, the Church, the words of the Anima Christi: Within Thy wounds hide me, permit me not to be separated from Thee.
Image: Andrea Mantegna, The Dead Christ