Hyingblksuitportrait-20110711-aetThe theology of atonement is at the very heart of Judeo-Christian faith and, for us as Christians, is linked to the reconciliation Christ has won for us. When we cause harm, do damage, hurt people, sin against God, an instinctive urge to make amends, to apologize, to repair and restore what we have stolen or broken arises in our hearts. Such good and holy desires constitute a true experience of contrition or of being sorry for what we have done. This process of reparation is atonement.

As Christians, we are convicted that only God himself could atone for the sum total of humanity’s sinfulness, another way of saying that we cannot save ourselves. We need a redeemer, and so Jesus Christ, through his incarnation, his ministry to the sick and sinners, and ultimately, through his death and resurrection, reconciled humanity to God and atoned for our sins.

This is not to say that an angry God grimly demanded the death of his Son, in order to extract spiritual payment for our transgressions, as some theologies would have us believe. Rather, God loves us so much that he wanted to save us from inside our own human experience, descending to the very depths of the terrible consequences of sin, namely death and alienation from God, in order to lift us up in the triumph of the resurrection.

April is known nationally as Child Abuse Prevention month with the week of April 15 dedicated in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as Safe Environment Week. In addition to what is done daily to increase awareness of safe environments, this time of the year brings increased focus on safeguarding all of God’s family and is dedicated to raising consciousness and prayer regarding the terrible scourge of abuse, within the church and society in general.

This horrifying sin against the most innocent and vulnerable in society is particularly disturbing because it strikes at the very core of one’s humanity and has terrible consequences that are physical, sexual, psychological, spiritual and emotional. The fact that priests and pastoral leaders abused children compounds the gravity of the offense. For many years, the Catholic Church in the United States has struggled to atone for these terrible crimes that are also sins.

We have tried to live out this need for atonement through safe environment education for children and adults background checks for adult employees and volunteers whose ministry involves children or youth and the implementation of the “Charter for the Protection for Children and Young People.” These are examples of the many changes in structures, procedures and policies within the church.

Additionally, we have offered apologies and have had meetings with victims/survivors; we have paid for psychological counseling and restitution to them. Looking at all that has been done in recent decades, we realize these actions, good as they are, are not enough. There must be a spiritual dimension to our atonement process, if we truly seek healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. Prayer, penance, mortification must be embraced and lived by all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, if we are to “clean the filth out of the church,” as Pope Benedict has said.

To that end, for the second year in a row, Archbishop Listecki will celebrate a Mass of Atonement next week for all members of the Catholic community, including the victims/survivors of sexual abuse. This simple gesture commits the entire archdiocese to the task of bringing these sins of sexual abuse, the victims/survivors, their families and friends, the perpetrators and indeed all of us to the Paschal Mystery of Christ, his death and resurrection, the saving event which alone can heal us, restore us and atone for the evil committed.

Because of the mercy of the Father, poured out through the Crucified One, the cross is transformed from being a horrifying symbol of hatred, suffering and death into the instrument of hope and salvation.

Only Christ can reset the broken bones of his own Mystical Body and reconcile us to the Father and to each other. While we can never undo the terrible hurt and damage done to the victims/survivors of sexual abuse, we can pledge to ensure that such sins never occur again by becoming instruments of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.

Please join us for the Mass, Thursday, March 29, at 7 p.m., at St. Frances Cabrini Parish, 1025 S. 7th Ave., West Bend. If you cannot attend, dedicate your prayer to the atonement and healing of this evil that has afflicted and affected all of us, both in the church and outside of her, in public schools and sports programs, in organizations and communities throughout the world.