All are made in God’s image, says bishop at biannual healing Mass

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Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the bilingual Advent Mass of Healing and Reconciliation for victims of abuse and their families Dec. 11 at St. Jerome Parish. (Ryan Everson/CATHOLIC SUN)

By Ryan Everson
The Catholic Sun

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As the Catholic faithful continue to struggle with the abuse scandals uncovered this past year, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted led the local community in the diocese’s biannual bilingual “Mass of Healing and Reconciliation” Dec. 11 at St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix. The Mass brought together more than 200 people from all around the diocese to unite in prayer for the healing of sexual abuse victims and to pray for God’s guidance in preventing abuse in the future.

The service began with a Rosary led by St. Jerome School students. One by one, the children went to the ambo to lead the congregation in a decade of the Rosary, alternating between Spanish and English.

St. Jerome pastor Fr. Gary Regula then led the congregation in a litany for healing, in which the faithful prayed for those who have suffered abuse, as well as for the reconciliation of those who have perpetrated it. The litany included intercessions to several saints, including St. Maria Goretti, the patron saint of chastity and sexual abuse victims.

Focusing on the first reading, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God” (Is 40:1), Bishop Olmsted related it to the life of Christian classical music composer George Frideric Handel.

“A deep hunger for comfort began very early in the life of George Frideric Handel,” Bishop began. “He overflowed with creativity and talent … but no matter what he did or how much popular acclaim he won, he could not please his father,” who considered Handel’s musical pursuits to be a “waste of time.”

“Handel’s struggle to come to grips with the painful opposition of his father best explains the exquisite beauty of his most famous composition called the ‘Messiah,’” the bishop continued. He then explained that the Isaiah passage is also the first sentence sung in Handel’s “Messiah.”

“Handel’s need for God’s comfort and the need of every one of us for God’s healing are abundantly provided by Jesus,” Bishop Olmsted said.

Just as Handel had a “festering wound” because of his rocky relationship with his father, Bishop Olmsted addressed those that have emotional and spiritual wounds because of sexual abuse.

“You and I are made in God’s image,” he said. “But how easily we can lose sight of God’s image in others. This happens in the sin of sexual abuse. The abuser violates the dignity of the person he abuses, and the person abused finds it very difficult to believe thereafter in his or her own dignity, and also to believe in the love of God. This is why sexual abuse is a grave evil.”

The bishop then reflected on the Parable of the Lost Sheep from the evening’s Gospel passage.

“Jesus says to us, ‘fear not little flock,’” he said. “He also goes in search of the lost through His body, the Church. And when He finds the lost, as we heard in tonight’s Gospel, Jesus rejoices.”

The liturgy left many with a greater sense of relief and peace.

“I just think it was the most beautiful, wonderful thing we could do. I just loved it,” said a St. Jerome parishioner who wished to remain anonymous. “We need to speak about [abuse], people who are holding it in need to be able to release it … and they need to know they’re not the only ones.”

“It’s important to show people that … our bishop really cares, and in spite of everything that we’re reading [in the news] that our bishop really does make an effort to help the healing process,” said Dcn. Roy Drapeau, who assisted in
the Mass.