4th Sunday of Lent (B)
Getting audited this Lent – bringing everything into the light
Right now, the parish is in the middle of a financial audit by an independent accounting firm. This audit is required by the Archdiocese every two years to make sure that the parish is using a strong system of internal controls to protect the assets of the Church from waste, fraud, and inefficient use. Good controls minimize loss and also serve as a way to provide a degree of personal protection to parish volunteers who are using parish funds. If one is following established procedures and is regularly accountable to others, it not only decreases the chance of misappropriation of funds, but it also educates one about risks and minimizes the chance that someone would put themselves in a position to be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous operator or would put themselves and the parish at risk by unknowingly crossing a line regarding the proper use of funds. Financial transparency and accountability in the stewardship of parish goods is expected and deserved by the faithful. Having to go through an audit on a regular basis can be tedious and time-consuming, not to mention costly (the parish has to pay the accounting firm to conduct the audit). It can seem like a lot of unnecessary paperwork, but the cost in time and money is worth it for the protection it provides. In every audit, we become smarter about financial practices and learn how to do things better to reduce risk that could save us from a monumental loss down the road. The staff was a little worried about the audit and our ability to respond to the auditor’s requests. What if something is missing or we are not doing something correctly? If something is missing, we’ll look for it. If we are not doing something according to “best practices”, we’ll fix it. If we are not doing something correctly, don’t hide it or make an excuse. If we are missing something, don’t make it up – don’t “cook the books.” Our goal for the audit is not about getting a “good score” or a “good report.” It is about learning how to be better stewards of what has been entrusted to our care. We have to bring everything into the light. This process is for us, not against us. The auditors have been sent not to condemn us but, in a sense, to save us. If something not good is revealed, it is only so that it can be healed. We can often think that when we are asked to produce certain documents and go through various trainings that it is because the people above us don’t trust us. But what we are asked to do is an act of trust on our part that these procedures and protocols are building a culture of transparency, accountability, awareness, and security for us all.
This past Wednesday, I met with the Archdiocesan Safe Environment auditor for the parish’s audit that is scheduled every three years. He gave me a much bigger perspective about the purpose of all the safe-environment training and background checks that are required by the Archdiocese. It is not just a hassle or a “cost to do business” in this day and age. Based on his many years of doing audits and criminal investigations, he described what we are dealing with as a “disease” or a “virus” that is very hard to get rid of. The purpose of the training and the requirements and checks is to create an environment that is, in a sense, “immunized” against the disease. It won’t eliminate it totally, but makes it much harder for the “disease” to infect the body and cause harm. The safe-environment training is like a vaccine that mobilizes the immune system so it can more quickly identify an offender and respond effectively and appropriately to neutralize it and eliminate it from the system. He has seen time and again how people without proper training or awareness exposed themselves and the organization they worked for to risk. They were acting, for the most part, with good intentions (he is not talking about serial predators), but because of human weakness, they crossed a boundary into something inappropriate that harmed a minor, cost the person his or her career, and cost their employer a big financial payout. The training we are asked to do makes it more likely that if we see something that doesn’t look appropriate, we’ll say something. “Hey buddy, you seem to be a little too friendly with that sacristan. You shouldn’t be in the sacristy alone with the minor.” A simple comment like that would get someone to check their boundaries or for someone with bad intentions, most likely, to move on. They know that kind of behavior is not welcome here. Again, the problem cannot be eliminated totally, but if we are requiring all the checks and training, and the offender has completed them, it cannot be said that we were acting irresponsibly or didn’t do our “due diligence” before hiring the person or allowing him or her to volunteer in a position of authority in the church.
Lent is a time for a real spiritual “audit”. Do not be afraid to expose all of your life to the light of Christ. We should not be worried about what is revealed, no matter how unpleasant it is, because it is revealed in order to be healed. “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned.” Do we believe that Jesus, as his name means, is a God who saves? Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” When the Israelites rebelled against the Lord, as a punishment, the Lord sent “seraph serpents”, poisonous snakes, to bite the people. As a remedy, the Lord commanded Moses to fashion a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole. Anyone who looked at the serpent would be cured. God fashions a remedy out of the very thing that afflicts us. Christ takes our sins upon himself and mounts the cross. When we look at the crucifix, Christ lifted up on the cross, we see our sins but also a love that has conquered sin – that is greater than sin. We see Him who is rich in mercy, who, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life. Our sins, brought to Christ, offered to Christ, are transformed through his death and resurrection, into the means of our salvation. In receiving the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist, we receive the amazing grace of this transforming love. The more we live in this grace – the more we live in the light of Christ – the more “immunized” we are against the disease of sin. We are more attuned to the risks of temptation and know how to avoid the near occasions of sin. We cannot eliminate all sin, but when we are afflicted, we recover faster and the sin causes less harm. And in the process, we create a safer environment for ourselves and others. “Have you gotten your shot yet – your “spiritual vaccination”? Make a good examination of conscience – take one of the guides for confession – and make a good confession. There is no limit to God’s mercy. There is no distribution problem with God’s mercy. We are all 1A in God’s eyes. And God’s vaccine is 100% safe. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because, ostensibly, he didn’t want the other Pharisees and Jewish leaders to see him with Jesus, but the “night” is a metaphor for the darkness of ignorance, evil, and sin. Nicodemus had an encounter with the “light of the world” and was transformed. Let’s not be afraid, no matter what our darkness is, to come to Jesus this Lent, for he wishes not to condemn us but to save us and transform us as well.