Listening to Pope Benedict's homily at this morning's Mass in Nationals Stadium and tracing his words in his prepared text, you became acutely aware that what he said about the sex abuse scandal ("deeply ashamed") on his flight to the U.S. and his strong comments to the American bishops at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last night were no fluke.
In his homily the Holy Father once again hammered at the abuse scandal, and this time broadened what he had to say to take in the entire Catholic community in America. Consider this, directed not just to the 46,000 at the Mass but to American Catholics as a group:
"No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church....Yesterday I spoke with your bishops about this. Today I encourage you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt. Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do."
So what is the Pope's formula for healing and reconciliation? Turn to the Holy Spirit and seek his gifts, he advised.
"How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of Penance! The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God's merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes."
People with long memories may recall that this prescription--"the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance"--is exactly what Pope John Paul II said repeatedly during his pastoral visit to the United States in 1987. "The potential for an authentic and vibrant renewal of the whole Catholic Church through the more faithful use of the sacrament of Penance is immeasurable," he said on one occasion during that trip.
Alas, things haven't gotten better since then. According to the polls, about 80% of American Catholics went to confession at least once a year in the 1950s and 1960s. Now about half say they never go at all. It seems we have our work cut out.
-- Russell Shaw