The readings for this Sunday come as a challenge and a warning, but as a consolation too. The text from Isaiah is reflective of many of the prophets who measure true righteousness and fidelity to God as how we live in community and treat each other:
Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.
The vision of a world where the greed and self-interest of the powerful are reversed, and the poor and excluded are cherished has sustained those of human compassion whom Jesus referred to as ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. The warning comes in the gospel text that if ‘salt becomes tasteless’ how can its taste be restored?
The ugly revelations of child sexual abuse in these last decades by priests and religious, and most recently by Spiritan confrères, renders for many the salt of Christian witness tasteless. As well as for victims, it is particularly devastating for people of faith and those who have given their time and service in supporting our congregation and its mission.
We try to explain this to others, and to ourselves, in terms of the darkness of human nature, sin, failures of systems and governance, deceitful people… However, little can assuage the perplexing and sinister reality that so many people experienced sexual abuse in the Church by ministers of the Church. As Spiritans, we carry the shame of past abuse perpetrated by confrères.
The burden is significant, where can we turn for guidance or consolation? Can the tasteless salt that we are, in the mouths of many, be revived?
Perhaps the text of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (today’s 2nd Reading) can help us re-focus or tilt perspective:
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with … wisdom… I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, … with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
Paul gives a sincere way forward: to reassess our attitudes in coming to ‘proclaim the mystery of God’. Only in acknowledgment of our weakness, and in much fear and trembling, conscious of the power of the Spirit, our faith does not rest on human wisdom or expertise, but on the power of God. Humility may taste bland, but it is the ingredient, the yeast, that will raise a deflated church.
In the new shape of Church there is no room for arrogance or elitism or sense of entitlement or demanding of others. Rather, brothers and sisters walking together, each sharing their experience of the mystery of God in them with others, all acknowledging the gifts that the other brings. Then, continuing the essential but difficult ministry of our safeguarding staff and leadership of addressing past failures and reaching out to engage with those who suffered abuse, we may begin to taste again the seasoning of true discipleship.