The image is a pelican, a mother whose children will starve, so with her beak, she opens her breast and allows them to drink from her blood, that they may survive.
In the selflessness of a mother, Christ’s heart is pierced on the cross and, pouring his blood out for us, he saves our lives.
This sacrifice continues in the mass. “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink…Do this in memory of memory…” We must not ignore those words.
Since July, I have felt at odds with the men on the altar. I heard nothing. From across the country, priests were speaking out. Women in Facebook groups shared how their priests preached on the crisis. Hours of reparation were scheduled. But not here. One parish here, but not where I attend.
We are split between two parishes. One did not even include the statements from the bishop in their bulletin. No mention. No words. Happy-go-lucky music. Was it even happening? Is it business as usual while the faithful who are up on Church news feel broken, alone, lost, abandoned by their shepherds to the thieves who disguise themselves as shepherds?
I heard a priest could choose to dress in black on such an occasion as this. Sackcloth and ashes.
Fed up, I contacted a priest who I knew had preached on the crisis. And by preaching, I don’t mean a passing comment for a few words connecting what he is preaching on to the news and back to the topic at hand.
No, I mean it was the focus.
They have no excuse because the readings have been all about the failure of the shepherds who choose to shepherd themselves. Even now, Augustine’s sermons on pastors fill the Office of Readings.
We left town for the day to the hills of Sonora, to mass at St. Patrick’s were a pipe organ fills the back wall, a few miles from Indgeny reserve, our destination for the afternoon. There were saw Fr. Sam. He looked deeply into the eyes of those he passed by. He bends down a little to do so. As his gaze grazes the congregation, he stops from time to time. He sees them.
And he preaches to them, to us.
In the reading, he said Christ exposes a great error we fall into, to think we can adapt God’s will to our will. He points out Peter being rebuked publicly by Christ, “get behind me Satan.” It wasn’t private, it wasn’t soft, it was public, it was telling. He pointed out that Peter went onto become Pope. The pope is infallible on the teachings of morals and doctrine, but he can still make mistakes, still make grave errors. We have seen it in history, we are seeing it now.
It doesn’t mean the Church has failed.
The exposure to the light is good. We need that.
He said all that…and more.
I felt seen. I felt heard. For over two months I’ve put my heart into the effort to feel it is not us (the laypeople) against them (the establishment of men either committing crimes or men afraid to rock the boat by speaking the truth, by preaching God’s word). I have felt desperate to hear this word, desperate to hear from the representatives of Christ, in person.
I’m reeling this morning. I am back to listening to the Memento Mori playlist on spotify because I live generally close to the edge and every now and I get pushed off.
This morning it was the homily. Not what the priest said. He said very nice things, exhortations and whatnot. It was what he chose not to say. That he encouraged us to point the finger to ourselves, address our consciences, not treat the powerful better than the little guy. In between the gaps, I raged, desperate for him to say, “and your shepherds have failed at this, but a lot of us are trying.”
The quote from St. Catherine of Siena travels around Facebook, “We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent! Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that the world is rotten because of silence.”
I am home now; I have to refocus. I cannot walk around in a rage all day. I can send off my emails, schedule to meet with a priest, who is himself speaking out, to balance my perspective and focus on what is closest to me.
They say to think of things you’re grateful. I’m going to review the photos from the week. The world seems to be falling down around us, but the good things remain, even in this crisis. I learned that as my child was pumped full of antibiotics in his early life and when we buried our daughter. I can remember now, even as I try to understand how men can be so evil.
At the fullness of time, God created a woman, born without sin, knowing this woman, full of grace, would allow him to work his wonders of her life and, subsequently, change the world.
On September 8 we celebrated the Birth of Mary.
I suppose because birthday days matters around here, we celebrate her’s too.
What a week and a half it has been. I do not know what it looks like if you only read the secular press. I do not know what it looks like for non-Catholic Christians. I do not even wholly know what it looks like for Catholics who are not plugged into Catholic social media.
But I know this: it has been one of the wildest two weeks I have experienced in the church.
Part of it started in June, with McCarrick sexually harassing and abusing seminaries yet somehow still rising in the ranks.
This did not hit the secular news. It was actually Catholic journalists who uncovered it, brought it to life and blew it open. Now, he is stripped of his title and confined.
But he never should have gotten as far as he did.
The scandal goes deeper than the creepiness of pederasty (like we were ancient Greeks or something). These were supposed to be our shepherds, our fathers, they were supposed to be men of God.
And they failed.
Those seminaries were supposed to be houses of formation, not distortion, spiritual hermitages where men could deepen their faith, discern their vocation and delve into the mysteries of the Church’s teaching preparing them for the pastoral care of the people of God.
Instead, it destroyed them.
Was it everywhere? I knew of the failings of my own diocese (we are bankrupt), but I held onto this hope that elsewhere in the world there were priests and bishops who not only love the Church but were courageous enough to talk about and it takes the risks God calls us to take.
I wrote the priests from the podcast, “Catholic Stuff You Should Know.” The priest who responded reassured me that it was not as widespread as it seems, that it was not the norm, and cautioned me in the direction my heart would take in sorting through this mess.
Well, the onslaught continued. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report revealed the heinous crimes of clergy and Fr. Dwight Longenecker, with typical insight and concise clarity posted “Cardinal Whirl Resigns.”
The idea that bishops who failed would resign and commit themselves to prayer, penance, and service of the least of our brothers, whispered into my heart what ought to be. This ought to be the spirit of our leaders.
Those priests on “Catholic Stuff” took up the call from their listeners and had a podcast (THE SCANDAL AND THE SCOURING) on the subject. I needed this. I needed to hear from the men of the cloth saying they are heartbroken. Otherwise, it feels very much like we are on the outside and alone, abandoned by our shepherds, left to the wolves of the world on one side and their own distorted sexual vision on the other.
By this time, social media had erupted. Female Catholic bloggers began #sackclothandashes calling for a time of reparation, like another Lent, to beg God for mercy on our Church and to bring these men back into the light of grace that they may do their duty in justice. From August 22 to Michaelmas, September 29, we would pray, fast and make sacrifice for reparation.
This is the John Paul II generation, taught we could do great things, taught to love the Church and love her shepherds. We are in tears, in rage, in astonishment, but instead of attacking Mother Church, we dove deeper into her traditions, looking for answers, knowing it was these men who were failing the Church, not the Church failing us.
The weekend brought an even more wild wave of news:
We were not surprised to see California produced more corruption with the retiring bishop of San Jose planning to move in a 5-bedroom 2.3 million dollar house upon retirement. Following the heroic trend, he changed plans once the media caught wind of it. We would, perhaps, prefer to see those “leaders” consider doing the right thing before they’ve been caught, you know, because it is
the right thing to do.
There were great articles about how this could happen, how the bishops could become so far removed from the real world to perceive themselves above the law of God. Mass readings called out bad shepherds, pasturing themselves, Jeremiah lamented.
Something could happen. Something could change. But then Fr. Longenecker gave us a dose of reality. As much as we want these bishops to resign and Pope Francis to tell us what he knew, he likely won’t, they won’t. Instead of speaking truth, Francis will likely just remain silent, as he did with the dubia, when faithful Catholics wanted to know what he meant. He refused to clarify. And awful, infuriating and likely accurate prediction.
It is a marvel that I could end this week feeling inspired and hopeful, but I do.
That bit of magic came from Al Kresta, who explored in depth what we know and what we do not know on his radio program, “Kresta in the Afternoon.” Kresta is a journalist and as a journalist, he takes a different approach. He interviews journalists. It was the journalists who first brought this to light and who will not let it rest, even as Francis refuses to tell us the truth.
I invite you to listen for yourself. As the days moved forward, Kresta comes to the belief that like the great crises in the Church, occurring approximately every 500 years, this will be another. He calls it the era of sexual heresy.
The root of this evil grew in denying the Church’s authority in sexual morality. A personal denial, then a refusal to teach her teachings, a refusal to counsel others to follow her teachings, then a refusal to follow her teachings. The teachings on sexual morality stem from a belief in the goodness of God’s creation and that one must never use another person. The sexual act is to be one of total self-gift, committed in marriage, unitive and procreative. When it becomes about me, use, or merely pleasure, all kinds of distortion can come into play, reaching, ultimately, at the extreme ends, the disregard of the other person in rape or abuse.
Don’t believe me or want to know more where I’m getting this stuff? Read Humanae Vitae.
There is a lot more to be said but this post has gone on long enough.
I am praying for the victims. I am praying for the truth to be revealed. I want to see those filing cabinets wide open. Let every last crime come to light. Only then, can our Church be purified and renewed.
This is a heartbreaking time to be a Catholic. The brokenness of the institutional Church is broken open. I am thankful it is that the truth may be known. When this happened before in 2002, I was too young to be plugged into the news cycle. We did not have social media. We have it now. My online peers and mentors are speaking out. There must be change and not just talking points.
What are we to do when we discover and rediscover the brokenness of our families, our community or the world around us?
We left behind the old life to commit to the new. For some, this represented a significant break from their history and making considerable sacrifices in a new way of living. When we first fall in love, we see only the good. This is the romance or colloquially called the honeymoon stage. One might say we see only what matters. Alice von Hildebrand, in her book titled “Letters to a Young Bride” writes that this vision of the person (which can be applied to the communities and organizations we love) is a vision to help sustain us when this next phase kicks in.
Disillusionment is the loss of the illusion, the honeymoon period of which we saw only the virtues. It is celebrating National Night Out before reading the griping on Nextdoor.com. It is knowing the beliefs of a Church or the mission of a non-profit before encountering the mess of a bureaucracy. It is realizing how long the man goes before clipping his toenails. All of this comes to light gradually. In the eye of the beholder, the flaws grow and grow. One may resist seeing them, fight them, but ultimately, to continue the relationship, one must learn to separate the flaws that are normal human imperfections and the sins that must be left behind.
Because I love you, I accept that you are more forgetful than me.
Because I care about this mission, I will jump through these hoops to get approval for my project.
But I will never, ever let you lay a hand on me.
I will not tolerate being spoken to in that way.
If I am employed, I expect to be paid for my work.
You must follow the law.
And if I really loved the thing or person I thought I did in the first stage, if I can remember how this commitment first came to be, then it is possible for me to decide, now, with eye wide open, if this person or organization is worth fighting for.
Vices plague communities in ways similar to how they plague people. The person I loved is more than that vice and if I love him then I will want to see him restored to the person I know him to be.
But if I am in danger I will get out and go somewhere safe. We cannot help a person or an organization continue maltreatment and call that being faithful to it.
Creating safe boundaries is another way of helping a person move through the stages of change to sobriety from these grave faults. Staying in a situation when you are in danger does nothing to help that person. Separation does not have to mean divorce from the first commitment. You are better than the way you are hurting me. By not allowing you to hurt me, I am helping you return to the person I know you to be. By creating safe boundaries, I am reminding you of the accountability to which you are called.
There are many paths through the disillusionment stage. We accept our personality differences, we accept that weaknesses exist, we exhort without nagging the need for growth. When both parties are willing to grow and acknowledge their faults, the relationship can move into the third stage of a mature, stable love and commitment. Or it will dissolve, either internally or externally.
What did we know in that first stage? There will be clues along the way to know if this thing is worth fighting for. Then I will spend my life loving you enough to call and help you to become what you have always been meant to be.