Ecclesia semper reformanda est — the Church is always to be reformed — is a much-appropriated, though not universally defined term familiar from Vatican II days. Evoked much earlier actually and in different contexts — some say even by St. Augustine — variations, such as by Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, even suggest Church reformers themselves must be reformed. This is something to bear in mind as we face a Church today much in need of spiritual reform and moral purification. 

I am reminded of the narrative in last Sunday’s Gospel when Jesus, barely arriving at temple after a night of prayer on the Mount of Olives, is suddenly drawn into a scene wherein a woman is deemed by certain elders, the Scribes and the Pharisees, to deserve execution by stoning for an alleged adulterous act. Their motives are not pure. They want to trap Jesus. They seek to cover up their own impurity by pointing a finger at the impurity of another.  

Of course, as we know, Jesus turns the tables on them by inviting the one without sin to cast the first stone. One by one they leave, the elders first, till only Jesus and the terrified woman remain. He forgives her and tells her to go and sin no more. 

This could be the model for Christian reform! Jesus does not act according to the worldly judgment, which is often vengeful, punitive and exclusionary. It seeks blame and throws stones. God’s mercy is a leveling experience clearing paths, reminding us that in God’s eyes we are all sinners and that what God seeks is restoration through reconciliation between the wronged and the wrongdoer. Everyone needs to forgive and be forgiven. 

This is not the corporate way. When a business is failing, it is common to seek to make structural and personnel changes, downsizing, firing or laying off individuals or operations impeding the mission of the organization or the profitable marketing of its product. Everyone and everything is either an asset or a liability to the enterprise, and its value is determined by how it serves the company.  

Some say the Church is just a business and is perfectly justified when it discontinues programs, lets workers go and even shutters church buildings, schools and certain programs. Though painful when it happens in one’s own backyard, few can dispute that funding a failing enterprise is no way to preserve it, and is even foolish and wasteful. But here is where the comparison must end. 

Unlike a corporation, the Church exists not to serve itself but others. And its “product” is life itself, eternal life, the Gospel, which is the Person of Jesus Christ, living among us. Whoever remains with him and with others who remain in him is a living community of faith — a church — no matter where that community prays, teaches or does its works of mercy.

Whether in a house, a tent, a storefront or a basement somewhere, a community of believers who love Jesus and one another are living members of the Body of Christ, to be celebrated in Word and Sacrament.  

If this sounds strange or like an impossible dream, one only needs an honest look at the history of Christianity from its ancient roots and throughout the centuries where Christian communities have sprung up everywhere, even — if not especially — during times of great persecution. 

The reality that threatens to shatter a church community is often much deeper than its realty. Today, the betrayal of trust and innocence that is the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, for example, is something that no amount of money or structural realignment can repair — certainly not that alone. 

At its roots, this is a profoundly spiritual crisis that goes to the heart of how we treat other human beings, especially our most vulnerable. What has happened, under the radar screen, whether through ignorance, denial or deliberate cover-up, is cruel and inhuman. The victims and survivors, no doubt most of them, suffer in silence. And they are our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and our family members, and even include some of our priests and religious. We must reform our ways and restore habits, behaviors and systems of accountability, transparency and integrity to bring those who have been wounded hope, to hear their stories and to walk with them together on the path of recovery. 

This week, I have announced the formation of a diocesan Task Force to support survivors and to review diocesan policy and protocol, past, present and prospective, so that everyone, especially our courageous survivors, will know they are an essential part of our mission to build up the Body of Christ that has been so wounded.  

As we approach Holy Week, we want to hear in the voice of the victims the voice of Christ crucified. As we look upon the Cross, we stand side by side, with open arms and hearts, ready not only to carry our own crosses but, in love and with the sacrifice that purifying love always demands, help bear one another’s as well. No stone will be left unturned to clear the graced and thorny path ahead. No stone will be thrown. 

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