Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
Our readings for today’s Gaudete Sunday call us, in the prophecy of Zephaniah, to look forward with rejoicing and hope. The Lord Jesus is coming again, and when He returns, in a definitive way all tears will be wiped away, all wounds will be healed, the sufferings and wrongs of this life will be put right, and the Church will show forth the holiness of the spotless Bride of Christ.
In the “already, and not yet” of Advent, this definitive culmination of history is the “not yet.” As for the “already,” St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians reminds us today that even in this life, amid its tears and misfortunes and its ongoing struggle for holiness, we can already find something of this peace and confidence and joy by entrusting all things to God now, thanks to the redemption of the world Jesus has already accomplished.
As you have heard, earlier this week, on the eve of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Diocese of Duluth filed for bankruptcy protection. We have had, over the past years, the opportunity to experience the purification of having some of the worst sins committed by members of the Church throughout its history in this region brought into the light of public scrutiny in their full horror.
Protecting children has been a chief commitment of our Diocese for more than two decades now. In the midst of that, this time of purification has called us to ever deeper solidarity with the innocent people who, as children, were so cruelly attacked in these sins. Wherever they are now, and no matter their view of the Church today, they remain our brothers and sisters, and we continue to love them and pray for them and cherish the gift of God that their lives represent.
We have throughout this process sought to put those victims first, to be open in all the ways that would be helpful in pursuing the truth of these decades-old wounds, and to try to do all of these things in Christian charity for friend and foe alike. That is why, on the eve of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, two Decembers ago, we publicly released the names of priests who have some connection to the Diocese of Duluth with known accusations against them and have continued to update that list as more information becomes available. It’s why we have for so many years continually encouraged anyone who has been abused to come forward both to public authorities and within the Church so that we can listen to them and offer them whatever assistance we can. It is also the approach we have taken in the courts.
Those same goals are why we chose to pursue bankruptcy protection. If we had not done so, it could have left many victims in the position of receiving nothing, and it could have severely damaged the work God has called His Church to do in this part of the world.
Still, it is a sad event, one I had hoped would not be necessary at this point, and another occasion for our purification, for our reparation for the sins committed against children by generations past and for our own self-examination to be sure we are doing all we can to eliminate those evils and all of our sins, as John the Baptist preaches in our Gospel reading.
We will be a poorer Church because we have pursued bankruptcy, but that is a purification, too — an opportunity to rely ever more fully on Jesus.
I began my ministry as your Bishop with the episcopal motto “Fiat Voluntas Tua” — “Thy Will Be Done” — a statement of trust in the Providence of God. Through all these things, through joyful times and sorrowful times, the Lord has shown Himself again and again as our trustworthy Savior, and Our Lady, the patroness of our Diocese, has protected us by her prayers.
Today I invite you to renew this confident trust. As our Psalm for today tells us:
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and He has been my savior.
Yours in the Lord Jesus,
Most Reverend Paul D. Sirba
Bishop of Duluth
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015