by JOHN EVANGELISTA
“Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another, and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24: 10-13)
On February 1, the Te Rōpū Tautoko research findings reported the extent of reported alleged abuse within the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand. The research was undertaken by the Church at the request of the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care.
Though this might not have been a surprise to many, reading the report breaks one’s heart. I am confident that the Church will be working closely with the royal commission to address the reported alleged abuse cases and bring justice to the victims.
This will address the historical abuse issues, but we need to move forward and ensure, not only that history should not repeat itself, but that lessons are learned from the mistakes of the past. How should we face the future then? The words of our Lord in Matthew 24: 10-13 bring me great consolation and hope in these most difficult times regarding the Church.
“Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another, and will hate one another.” We continue to witness the effects of these betrayals by those who perpetuated abuse within, as well as outside, the Church. Many lives of victims of abuse have been broken. And these have resulted in repercussions at all levels of the Church and society. I have listened to so many disillusioned young people and adults who have chosen, not only not to live their faith, but have also totally questioned the very existence of God. We are also witnessing the hate and division within the Church brought about by the way the abuse cases have been handled. One can palpably touch the ongoing grief and hate just by reading the news on the issue of abuse.
“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” It is precisely the betrayal by the ones who were supposed to lead, direct, and protect others, especially the most vulnerable, that has resulted in many faithful going astray. They have betrayed Jesus Christ and those he has put in their hands to care for and to love. In many ways, it is also a betrayal of the many other faithful and dedicated Church leaders, ministers and faithful who, through the centuries, have “left all and followed our Lord” (Luke 18:28).
“And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.” It is time for each one of us to reflect on these words and ask ourselves: In the face of these abuses and injustices perpetuated by people within the Church, has my love gone cold? Indeed, this is a very hard question that demands a lot of soul-searching and faith-seeking. However, this is a question that needs a response for us to move forward.
In the face of pain and afflictions, our Lord invites us to ponder in our hearts the Beatitudes. It is through the practice of the Beatitudes that Jesus will bring “joy” into our lives, and bring us back to the path towards the kingdom of God. The Beatitudes also echo the words of the Lord in the face of the peoples’ sin and infidelity, as written in Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought, it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” This promise of our Lord gives us hope and confidence that this is not the time to allow our love to grow cold. Behind all these betrayals and lawlessness, our Lord is speaking to us. It is a time for renewal, a time of cleansing for each one of us personally and for the whole Church. It is a time for prayer – a time to renew our friendship with God. More than ever, it is a time for all of us to multiply our God-given talents so that we will be able to bear fruits that will last. It is a time for holiness – “to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
We need to heed what the Lord tells us so that our love will continue to burn. Like the two disciples who encountered the Risen Lord on their way to Emmaus, we can say: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road . . . ?” (Luke 24:32).
- Dr John Evangelista is Dean/Tumuaki of the Catholic Theological College, Te Kupenga – Catholic Leadership Institute.