ROME — The clerical sexual abuse scandal “may be the greatest moral crisis in the history of the Church,” said Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois.
The Christmas-season task of bishops, and of every Christian, is “to get Jesus out of the manger and into the cold stable of our world. And in the United States, we know how cold that stable can be” with its secularism, political polarization, racism and the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the bishop said during his homily Dec. 11 at Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran.
The bishop, who turned 75 in June, was the principal celebrant and homilist as the bishops of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin celebrated Mass at the basilica as part of their ad limina visits to report on the status of their dioceses.
In the day’s Gospel reading, Mt 11:28-30, Jesus invites the crowd to come to him, promising that his yoke is easy and his burden light.
That word applies to the bishops, too, Braxton said. “He knows that we, who serve as shepherds of his people, are at times burdened by our labors.”
The Gospel message and the words heard during the ad limina meetings with Pope Francis and with Roman Curia officials, he said, “are words of support, encouragement and challenge as we strive to get Jesus out of the manger and into the cold stable of our world.”
The bishop began his homily with a homemade litany: “Get Jesus out of the manger and into your hearts! Get Jesus out of the manger and into your diocese! Get Jesus out of the manger and into the world!”
The ministry of a bishop and of any disciple, he said, is “to bring the warmth, mercy and life-changing love of Jesus into so many different stables.”
Listing “cold stables” that need Jesus today, Braxton included: “The cold stable of a secular culture which is counting shopping days until the holidays, not Christmas; the cold stable of our fractured politics with our people polarized concerning the president; (and) the cold stable of our society marred by the racial, economic and educational divide.”
But he also listed “the cold stable of our church staggering from what may be the greatest moral crisis in the history of the Church.”
While the situation in each diocese is different, he said, the need for the warmth of Christ is the same.
For Braxton, getting Jesus “out of the manger” involves practical steps under the guidance of the principles of Catholic social teaching. He noted that Pope Leo XIII, who served 1878-1903 and is considered the father of Catholic social teaching, is buried at St. John Lateran.
A key part of the teaching, he said, is “subsidiarity, which stresses that, whenever possible, political and social decisions should be made at the local level rather than by (a) central authority.”
The Belleville bishop said the impact of the Church embracing subsidiarity can be seen “in Pope Francis’s continued focus on ‘synodality,'” or the whole Church reflecting together on specific themes, and in “his concern for deeper exploration of the role of women in the Church.”
Ongoing efforts to strengthen the work of the U.S. bishops’ conference and the collaborative and consultative structures within dioceses, he said, also are part of the effort “to find creatively new and more effective ways of getting Jesus and his sin-shattering, life-changing tidings of great joy into the many cold stables of discord and despair in our country.”
The ad limina visits, Braxton said, should help the bishops return home reinvigorated and emboldened to help their people recognize the coming days are “holy days, not holidays.”
The season, he said, celebrates how Jesus got himself “out of the manger and into the world,” preaching, teaching and dying for humanity’s sins, rising from the dead and sending the Holy Spirit.
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