It is now a week since Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It came at the right time this year, at least for me, because it came with ashes.
I wanted to go to church and to receive much more than just the ashes being placed on my forehead in the sign of the cross. I would have accepted a bucket-load. I know I am not the only one who has felt they were standing among ashes last week.
In all the media and other commentary on the trial of Cardinal Pell we have heard many voices. Not all were calm and reasoned — in fact, many were hurt and very angry. It was as if a deep wound had been exposed within our nation.
But in all of what we heard — including reflections on our human legal processes — there was above all a powerful call to face the deep trauma of those who have experienced sexual abuse and to hear and respect their stories.
In Victoria, as I write, bushfires continue and their smoke lingers over the city. Many houses and more have been destroyed. No life, thankfully. But the cost to people’s lives and memories is enormous. So much can be destroyed by a single flame.
Recently, we remembered other Victorian bushfires from a decade ago where much was destroyed and 173 people died. Some of those who had lost home and family left their community and never returned. Most did return. They came back and rebuilt.
As they did, they discovered a new strength within their community, something called forth from their shared experience of ashes and devastation, which slowly grew in strength over the years. It was no easy task, building on the memories and ashes of the past. However, they did.
They remind us of the power of courage, the resilience of community and the importance of hope. They stand as witnesses to a future that at times can only be dreamed of as small steps are made, community is slowly rebuilt and people stand in solidarity together.
I daresay this Lent will be one to remember for many years to come. I hope those who were sexually abused can rebuild their lives, after all they have experienced. And that we in the Church can better listen and respond to the wounds we have helped cause.
I continue to draw hope from those who have rebuilt their lives and communities after the devastation of bushfires a decade ago. They have something to teach us. Rebuilding is possible, but our Church journey begins by standing amongst ashes.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial