A Humble, Contrite Heart

A Homily from Archbishop Julian Porteous to the Trustees, Staff and Seminarians
of Corpus Christi College.


Friday 8 March 2019

Brothers, we have entered Lent this year against the backdrop of the issue of sexual abuse of minors in the Church being extensively commented upon in the media. The conviction of Cardinal George Pell and the meeting of Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences in Rome have once again opened the floodgates of media interest.

There has been widespread dismay at the damage done to victims of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Despite our constant acknowledgements of shame and statements of apology, despite our efforts since the mid-1990s to address the issue, despite our serious response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, we still find ourselves the subject of criticism and anger.

Particularly here in Victoria the issue is raw and the media exposure confronting and distressing.

Repentance and a humble acknowledgement of our sins is the course that we both individually and as a Church must take.

If any good can come from this prevailing darkness and distress it is that we, individually and as a Church, will be purified. Thus, this Lent provides a special impetus to seek an inner purification.

The prophet Isaiah today speaks forthrightly about the danger of a superficial religiosity. We can no longer hide among shallow practices or hollow words. What is required, as the prophet outlines, is real concrete action. There must be evident expression to our renewed minds and hearts.

On Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel, declared that our hearts need to be broken and not just our garments torn. Conversion occurs in the heart. We have to confront areas of hardness of heart.

Lent calls upon us to step up our Christian spiritual standards. We are urged to give more generously to those in need. We are encouraged to engage in acts of self-denial. We are to walk a path of humble contrition for our sins. We are to pray more intensely.

In the present climate we are to embrace this holy season with serious intent. We cannot subscribe to Lent in some kind of token way. We cannot just “hang our head like a reed”, as the prophet says, in some sort of mock humility. The genuine fast is revealed in concrete actions of love, mercy and justice. It calls forth an honest and serious commitment on our part. Our Lent will be measured in what we do, not what pose we adopt.

We, who are called into Holy Orders, have a special responsibility to not only engage with the season of Lent but to offer our sacrifices in reparation for the sins of our brothers. We, from the depths of our own poverty and fragility, cry to God for mercy upon ourselves and for mercy to be given to the Church.

Let us emerge from this Lent chastened, purified and renewed. Knowing as the psalmist says, God “will not spurn a humble contrite heart”.