Deacon Phil Franco, PhD
“And Jesus wept.”
The verse we just heard in the Gospel, the shortest verse in the entire Bible, is to me, also among the most mysterious.
Since I was a little child the verse confused and fascinated me, as I wondered this: Why would Jesus, who is God, who knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the darkness of death, cry? Why cry when the miracle of bringing Lazarus out of the tomb was about to occur?
I very clearly recall, as a young boy of about the age of ten, asking this very question to the man who would abuse me. His answer was quick and dismissive. “It is just a mystery,” he said.
I tend to disagree.
And Jesus wept.
Perhaps the reason our Lord, God himself, wept at this moment, even though he knew that Lazarus was about to return to the light of life, was the fact that the damage was already done.
Perhaps, despite his ability to raise Lazarus, he could not change the human imperfections of sinful choices and the results of misused freedom and sin which is death.
Perhaps it was the very fact that this evil, any evil had occurred.
Perhaps he cried because, despite the miracle he was about to perform, he saw the suffering of those who mourned the loss of their brother. He also saw the relative lack of trust of his followers who continued to pester him, “Why did you let this happen? Why were you not here to stop this from happening?”
And so, in the knowledge of all this and more, God wept. He wept because despite his ability to bring light –there were still those who prefer the darkness and who choose the darkness and live in darkness. Sometimes, their choices move beyond their own lives and impose the darkness of sin and suffering upon others.
How similar this is to the crisis of sexual abuse that has cast a shadow of sinful darkness over the Church universal at the turn of this 21st century.
Let us not equivocate or hold back or try to relativize. This scandal, with all that it has done to hurt the Church we love, stands among the most painful and far reaching in the history of the Church. It is a scandal that inevitably caused many to approach Christ and say, “Where were you? If you were really here, this never would have happened. If you were here, this darkness would never have descended.”
And so many family members, many who are gathered here tonight, could not and cannot help, but they look to our Lord and say, “If you had been here, my brother, my son, my nephew, my husband, would never have suffered this inner death that comes so frequently with the scars of abuse.”
And Jesus Wept. Likely. Jesus still weeps now.
He still weeps now because although we know how far we have come, and although he knows what his grace can and will and is doing to change things, the damage is already done, and the scandal is not completely over.
The scandal is not over.
As long as a survivor shakes with anxiety, the scandal is not completely over.
As long as a family struggles with faith due to this, the scandal is not over.
As long as people wake up in the darkness of the night with nightmares, the scandal is not over.
As long as good and holy priests who give their lives to the Church are lumped together with the guilty, the scandal is not over.
As long as I personally watch victims stumble through the streets of my parish self-medicating themselves to death with alcohol this scandal is not over.
Surely there will be a stench. The stench of the dark tomb of abuse, even as Jesus was to work his loving miracle for Lazarus and for us, lingers ever so clearly in the lives of so many, abused by so few. The burial took place, the official mourning was over, but, “Surely, Lord, it’s been four days, there will be a stench.”
But no matter what, no matter where and no matter when: Christ brings light. And we see the light now. We see the light in the Church and the world. Christ has shown up to the town, and people are ready to see him heal. If you are here tonight and for any reason needing healing, Christ is here, and his divine love sees you clearly through his human tears.
There are two ways to help someone carry the Cross. You can do so reluctantly like Simon of Cyrene because you have been publicly challenged, almost shamed, into doing so. Or, you can bear the Cross with love of God and neighbor.
Whatever the motivations of some in power, and I am sure in the beginning they were mixed like Simon, we now see very clearly the good that is being done.
We see the light of Christ raising Lazarus through the mist of his divine tears. We see dioceses like Brooklyn working so hard to help the healing. We see the light of Christ working very directly through Bishops and so many good and faithful priests to bring healing and life despite the stench of the aging corpse.
To the families here tonight, we say thank you for your unconditional support.
To the priests here tonight, survivors say thank you for being incredible examples of courage and help.
To the Bishops, survivors say thank you to Brooklyn for being trend setters in this ministry.
To the victim-assistance ministry we say not only thank you—but we say you will never know what you personally mean to us and what you have personally done for us. You, by your dedication, have so ably been the voice of Christ bringing life and dispelling the stench of darkness. You have walked us toward the light that we seek.
And most importantly, my friends, who are survivors more than victims, let Christ into your life. If you were abused in any way, you are welcome here tonight. You are loved. Christ weeps for you, but he will also raise you. Come forward. Speak to someone. Let the darkness out and the let it be replaced by the light of Christ.
For that journey to begin, you must first begin slowly stumbling out of the lonely tomb. Believe us, we know. It’s a dark, slow and uneasy walk. But Let Christ into your life. Like in the Gospel tonight he will, like he did for Lazarus, unbind you and set you free.
Deacon Phil Franco, PhD, has been an ordained deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn since 2015 and is a survivor of clergy abuse.
The first time this sermon was preached by Deacon Phil Franco and broadcast by the Diocese of Brooklyn was on April 26, 2017 from St. Anselm’s Church in Brooklyn, New York. By kind permission, the first time this sermon was published by us was in the May 2017 issue, which may be seen in full here.