Dear friends. On Friday 15th February, Bishop Denis lit the ‘Candle of Atonement’ here in the Cathedral in advance of the major meeting on Safe-Guarding that was held in Rome the following week. The candle was an acknowledgement of the open wound of abuse that happened in our diocese that was exposed with the Ferns Report back in 2005. The meeting in Rome that was called by Pope Francis, was an acknowledgment that the terrible sin of abuse was far more widespread than we feared. In this homily, I would like to reflect not on the topic of abuse itself but on one of its root causes – namely the abuse of power. After all, Lent is a time to face up to what is evil, what is dark and what needs healing, conversion and forgiveness.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is tempted by Satan to abuse his power. He tempts Jesus to be a wonder worker and show his power to turn stones into bread. He tempts him with the promise of more power when he says: ‘I will give you all this power and glory if you worship me’. Lastly, he tempts him to show his power by putting God to the test. Jesus resisted this temptation to abuse power as he did at the very end of his life as he stood before Pilate who would condemn him to death. Jesus remained silent before him and then Pilate said: ‘So you will not answer me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?’ But Jesus replied: ‘You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above’. With these words, Jesus reminded Pilate and all those who abuse power over others, that the abuse of power may seem to win the day and overpower those who are weaker. But that because of the resurrection, Jesus – who allowed himself to become a victim of the abuse of power – became a sign of hope to other victims down the centuries who were crushed and hurt by others.
In most cases of abuse, whether it is sexual, physical or emotional, there is an abuse of power of one over another. Very often it is the case where one has authority over someone more vulnerable. When this happens, Satan’s evil work is done and heaven weeps. But that is why the temptation account in today’s Gospel is so valuable because it not only highlights the issue of the abuse of power that we are all capable of, but assures that with the Lord, we can overcome and resist efforts by the Evil One to abuse power in any way. Instead, we are called to love and to serve and to will the good of the other. Many of us have authority with vulnerable people entrusted to our care. To be in a place of authority is an opportunity to do great good or it can be a place to do great harm if that power is abused. Let us commit ourselves today, never to abuse our power but to empower others to become the people God created them to be.
Friends, today we remember all victims of abuse in the Church and in the world. We beg forgiveness for all they have suffered. We pray that the Gospel today where Jesus is tempted to abuse his power may inspire us to tackle one of the main root causes of abuse. May it help to eradicate this terrible cancer in the body of the Church and in the family of humankind.