Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Easter's image of compassion for abused and abusers

  • 01 April 2010
Easter is often celebrated in difficult times. In the Catholic Church this year shame and sadness at the disclosures of sexual abuse in the European churches are part of the background to Easter. It would be easy to see the former as a distraction from Easter. But a central meditation of St Ignatius Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises suggests that the two need to be held together. Ignatius invites retreatants imaginatively to join the three Persons of the Trinity as they look down on the earth at the panorama of people sinning and going to hell, and discuss how to rescue humanity.

This meditation asks for a realistic and unflinching view of the world, and of ourselves in it, which focuses on the selfishness so often characteristic of human relationships in commerce, war, family and politics, and on its lethal consequences. The prayer is not intended to evoke self-disgust or despair at such a flawed world. Our gaze is to mirrors God's gaze, which is not detached but compassionate, devising rescue for both the perpetrators and the victims of sin.

To understand what Christians celebrate at Easter we need this kind of perspective. A sensibility that softens the reality of sin, affirms human goodness in an unqualified way, and sees God as simply indulgent, cannot do justice to the stories of Easter. They include harrowing images of sin, of its murderous consequences, and surprising images of life and freedom won through death.

The calculation of those who wanted to kill Jesus, Judas' betrayal, Pilate's cowardice, the failure of the disciples to stand by Jesus, the casual brutality of the soldiers, and a death by crucifixion that was designed to dehumanise the condemned and to mock their pretensions, provide what seems to be a definitive demonstration of the power of sin over humanity.

The miracle of Easter is that the demonstration turns out not to be definitive, but is interrupted by Jesus' rising. Precisely the events that prove the power of sin turn out to be the source of life. God's gaze, and so the Christian's, takes in together the devastation made by sin of Jesus' life and the seeds of life that burst through sin.

This conjunction of sin and of life suggests that the stories of sexual abuse throughout the Catholic world are not a distraction from Easter. If we are to enter this Easter it is appropriate to attend