It is Child Protection Sunday in all Catholic Churches in Australia, a far cry from the Second Sunday of the month ‘Children of Mary Sunday’ of my youth. And, perhaps yours. We also find Jesus still in Gentile country, much to the discomfort of his disciples and perhaps to the wonderment of some who thought his message was only for the chosen people, then considered to be the Jewish Nation. However, Jesus brings new wine to the people and as he indicated elsewhere, Gentile territory did not seem to be the appropriate new place to be if you need new wine skins. Most disagreed, except the locals who seemed pleased to have someone talk sense and bring great doses of mercy to their suffering community.
The caveat for us is that every now and then we need a big bowl of new wine and an appropriate new skin.
We deplore and abhor what has happened in the ranks of Church personnel. One violation is one too many, one church is one too many, one nation is a nation too many; so we ask forgiveness and set about finding a new wine skin. That path will not be easy; to succeed we need to heed the advice of Hetty Johnston the founder and Executive Chair of ‘Bravehearts’ who wrote in the Bendigo Advertiser last Saturday, “Child protection is everyone’s business.” It was a positive article and still contained some disturbing figures e.g. “every 90 minutes a child is sexually assaulted somewhere in Australia” and “the majority of these crimes (sexual assault against children) are perpetrated inside the family unit or by someone known to the family.”
The miracle related in today’s gospel is ultimately about giving a human being the ability to hear and to speak, one on one or to a crowd. I believe that new voice and new hearing is what is needed today. To be able to speak about these crimes is vastly important for the victim; to be able to listen is required of the community.
The scholars tell us that Mark relays this story of Jesus to emphasise that the message of Jesus and the power that he manifests is to remind his community and those that hear or read his message, that it is for all. As it went beyond Israel in Mark’s time, so too for us. It now calls us beyond physical healing. We may not have the power to loosen the ligaments of the tongue, but we can break the age-old taboo of children being seen and not heard.
A Church in mission must reach out beyond its own culture, it is called today to confront the scourge of sexual violence against children.
Perhaps in the mysterious way in which our loving and merciful God works, our Church suffering may be the Cross of this generation that propels the world to a new and more respectful appreciation of its little ones. It is still early days, but it is good to know that the eminent scholar working in this field, Hans Zollner, visiting and helping child protection agencies in Australia, has recorded that in dealing with this scourge, the Australian Church is far ahead of other comparable institutions.
It is great news for us, all of us. And with all the posters, meetings, discussions, permits and plastic cards, some light is appearing at the end of the tunnel! We are making the scripture message “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed” come to life!
P.S. As you know I have been away, initially associated with Teams, in particular the world meeting in Fatima, but am back and willing to have another go at a reflection, with encouragement from many sources. If you wish to not receive, please let me know.