Homily Preached by Monsignor Liam Kelly, Diocesan Administrator, in the Cathedral of SS. Patrick & Felim, Cavan on 15 February 2019, the World Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Abuse
The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want
We gather here this evening, on this world day of prayer for victims and survivors of abuse, to pray for people everywhere who carry burdens of lifelong suffering following abuse. We pray for them and for their families – that they may find justice, healing and peace in their lives. We gather in a spirit of repentance, asking God to forgive the sins of all who abused those entrusted to their care in the church. We pray too for all whose faith has been tested and maybe even shattered by revelations of abuse in recent decades by church members. We hope that our prayers here this evening, and the prayers of Catholic Communities throughout the world, which are being offered up on this special day of prayer, will bring comfort, healing and peace to all.
Psalm 22 is the best known and best loved psalm from the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. It begins with those wonderful reassuring words, that eternal truth: The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. It tells us that the Lord our God is there for us, ever watching over us, caring for us and providing for our every need. The psalm does recognise that life is not always plain sailing, that at time our spirits are low and that we become disheartened. And yet it assures us that God takes care of us even in these low times of our lives: Near restful waters he leads me, it says, to revive my drooping spirit. And it goes on: Even though I walk in the valley of darkness, no evil will I fear, you are there with your crook and your staff, with these you give me comfort.
The words of this psalm are very reassuring for us this evening as we gather praying for all who have walked, or are walking in the valley of darkness because of the abusive behaviour of others. Psalm 22 reassures us that God is our great Shepherd, ever present, ever near, ever caring no matter what trauma, what pain we are going through. You and I must never forget that The Lord is our shepherd, both in good times and in bad and for our part, we must do what we are doing here this evening, we must turn to him in prayer. And if we do that we will find healing and peace. And my hope is that this candle of atonement, which we lit here this evening and which will remain in the cathedral, will inspire people to pray and will bring healing and hope to all who are walking in the valley of darkness.
As a small boy growing up in Nazareth, Jesus learned Psalm 22. He heard it in the synagogue and no doubt prayed it with his parents Mary and Joseph in their Nazareth home. And later, in adult life, when He wanted to explain to his followers who He was, and what He was like, Jesus used that same image that he had learned in Psalm 22. He said: I am the good shepherd and he went on to say ‘The good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep, such is the great love he has for his flock. And of course these were not just empty words because Jesus went on to show the depth of his love by dying on the cross for us.
So Jesus is our good shepherd and all of us, women and men, who have roles of ministry in His church, are meant to model our lives on the life of Jesus. We too are meant to be good shepherds to those who are entrusted to our care. That is why faithful people throughout the world have been shocked and horrified to learn in recent decades that some church members, who were meant to be good shepherds to the flock entrusted to their care, turned out to be much more like the wolves mentioned in the gospel reading. And these wolf-like characters, although only a small minority in our church, have wreaked havoc on innocent and vulnerable people and on their families. They have damaged the faith of good believing people and they have cast a shadow over all the good shepherds, who, modelling their lives on Christ the good shepherd, are ministering away in the church faithfully tending to their flocks, despite the difficult times they are living in.
Tonight as we gather to pray for the victims and survivors of abuse we humbly acknowledge the sins of abuse perpetrated by church members over the years and we acknowledge too the sins of some church authorities who failed to respond as good shepherds when they learned of the abuse that had taken place. We acknowledge these failings and we pray for forgiveness for them as we pray for healing for all who have been abused.
We thank God for the victims and survivors of abuse who have bravely disclosed the suffering they endured and in doing so have shed a light in the darkness and have helped our church become more Christ-like, a better, a safer and a more caring place for all. We thank God too for all those people who are working tirelessly to safeguard children and vulnerable adults and who have set up good practices and safe systems in our parishes, our diocese and our country. And we thank Bishop Leo O’Reilly, who as bishop of the diocese for more than twenty years, has given great leadership and established good safeguarding practices throughout the diocese, practices that are firmly embedded and will be continued by his successors.
At a recent gathering of the bishops of Ireland in Knock, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the archbishop of Armagh, blessed the candles of atonement which are being lit here and in cathedrals around the country today. Archbishop Martin will travel to Rome next week for the special gathering of bishops from around the world who have been invited by Pope Francis to Rome to discuss safeguarding issues and the church’s response to them. We pray that the Holy Spirit of God will guide Pope Francis and all who gather for this special meeting. May the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Light, Truth and love – light up their path and show them the way to go.
The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.