In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave us "a mandate" to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
Photo: Felix Carroll
News from Rome: Pope Begs Forgiveness for Priests' Sins
By David Came (Jun 20, 2010)
The need for forgiveness and mercy in light of the clergy sexual abuse scandal was on the mind of Pope Benedict XVI as he celebrated Mass to close the Year for Priests in St. Peter's Square on June 11, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The liturgy drew some 15,000 priests, making it the Eucharistic celebration with the largest number of concelebrants in the history of Rome.
Begging Forgiveness for Priests' Sins
In his homily, the Holy Father spoke of a "new radiance of the priesthood" that had not been "pleasing to the 'enemy'" and then referred to "the sins of priests" that "came to light." In the name of the Church, he begged "forgiveness from God and from the persons involved":
It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the "enemy"; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light — particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God's concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life's dangers.
Pope Benedict also emphasized that the very fact the scandal had been highlighted during the Year for Priests should be viewed "as a summons to purification" that called for "our own courage and our own humility":
Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God's gift, a gift concealed in "earthen vessels" which ever anew, even amid human weakness, make His love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task that we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, His gift becomes a commitment to respond to God's courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility.
The Compassionate Shepherd of Our Souls
After highlighting this "summons to purification" for the Church and her priests, the Holy Father made two references to mercy in commenting on Psalm 23, which was the Responsorial Psalm in the liturgy.
The first reference was an emphatic request for the Lord to have mercy on us as the caring shepherd of our souls — just as Jesus had compassion on the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd:
Let us return to our Psalm. There we read: "He leads me in right paths for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me (Ps 23:3ff.). The shepherd points out the right path to those entrusted to him. He goes before them and leads them. ... We are constantly reminded of the words of Jesus, who felt compassion for the crowds because they were like a flock without a shepherd. Lord, have mercy on us too! Show us the way! From the Gospel we know this much: He is Himself the way.
As we follow the compassionate Good Shepherd of our souls, He sets the table before us, anoints us, fills our cup to overflowing, and invites us to dwell with Him forever. Thus, we can trust that "goodness and mercy" shall follow us all the days our lives. This is the Pope's train of thought as he concludes his reflection on Psalm 23 and points us to its fulfillment in "the mystery of the Eucharist":
At the end of the Psalm we read of the table which is set, the oil which anoints the head, the cup which overflows, and dwelling in the house of the Lord. In the Psalm this is an expression first and foremost of the prospect of the festal joy of being in God's presence in the temple, of being His guest, whom He Himself serves, of dwelling with Him, For us, who pray this Psalm with Christ and His Body, which is the Church, this prospect of hope takes on even greater breadth and depth. We see in these words a kind of prophetic foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist, in which God Himself makes us His guests and offers Himself to us as food — as that bread and wine which alone can definitively sate man's hunger and thirst. ... [Addressed specifically to priests:] How can we not rejoice that he has enabled us to set God's table for men and women, to give them His Body and His Blood, to offer them the precious gift of His very presence. Truly we can pray together, with all our heart, the words of the Psalm: "Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Ps 23:6).
In this light, join me in thanking the Lord for the great gift of the Eucharist and for our priests who give us the Lord's Body and Blood, offering us "the precious gift of His very presence," which is a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. May this great Sacrament of Mercy sustain us on our journey home, and may our priests be strengthened in responding to the call to be, like the Lord Jesus, compassionate shepherds of our souls.
Also, in light of the Holy Father begging forgiveness for priests' sins and issuing a summons to purification, let's pray for courage and humility so that the future will be a time of genuine purification and renewal in the Church. May such a time of purification, healing, and renewal ensure that clergy sexual abuse never occurs again. Lord, have mercy on us!
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. He is the author of Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.