Friday evening, I went to the prayer vigil of reparation and petition at the Cathedral – the 7 hour vigil of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament to ask God’s mercy upon the Church in this time of crisis. I was happy to see that the Cathedral was full.
We prayed for pardon and offered prayers in reparation for: All sins of sexual abuse and sexual immorality, especially by members of the Catholic Clergy. We asked pardon for: All sins of cowardice, deception, sloth and self-protection, especially among those in positions of authority in the Church. We asked pardon for: our collective indifference to Christ’s teaching on human sexuality. We asked pardon for all forms of scandal and infidelity, including our own personal sins through which we have been an obstacle to others finding God. We prayed for the grace of: Healing for the victims of sexual abuse; purgation of the Church from all evil; rooting out of all compromise, infidelity and lukewarmness in our own lives and in those of our bishops and priests. And we prayed for the grace of a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit to set the Church aflame with radical holiness, fidelity and zeal for the Gospel. I was there for about 3 hours and had the opportunity to go to confession myself. Purification of the Church begins with the purification of ourselves.
I wondered out loud yesterday to a friend that if there was a grand jury investigation, would the same thing be found in the public school system or other organization? He said that it would probably be worse in the public school, but so what? The public school system is not purporting to be an organization that teaches faith and morals. The public school system or any other organization is not here to witness to God’s love and to bring us to a saving encounter with Jesus Christ. This is why what is happening in the Church is such a great scandal.
A group of U.S. Cardinals are in Rome now meeting with Pope Francis and calling for an investigation. The Pope just accepted the resignation of another U.S. Bishop and appointed another bishop to head an investigation into allegations against the bishop. This is bad, and it will not get better any time soon. This situation calls for atonement and conversion. We don’t need much more analysis and investigation. We don’t need to focus on the filth because, in moments of darkness, one looks for a point of light and follows it. Even if all the bishops resign, even if all the abusers are put in jail, even if the victims receive huge monetary settlements – all of which are good things – and things that should happen because justice needs to be done – the suffering of the victims will never go away. What they lost through abuse can never be returned. The only one who can respond to the unjust suffering they carry is Christ. Only Jesus can turn filth into something new. This is the experience of the cross and resurrection. This is why the Church gathered in prayer of petition and reparation on Friday for the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. It is why the Church turns to Mary, our Lady of Sorrows, to help us to stand at the foot of the cross and offer our suffering in union with Jesus her son. It is through the cross that we are saved and come to the resurrection. This is what we owe the victims and what they need to see – people who have embraced the cross and experienced the resurrection. This new life that comes through the cross is what the world is looking for. This is what gives hope: when the resurrection is seen here and now – when the Lord gives new life to someone mired in darkness.
Where do we see these witnesses in the Church? This problem won’t be remedied simply by greater transparency, getting rid of the bad actors, or reaffirming the moral teaching of the church and instituting new policies and procedures. All those things are good and necessary, but not sufficient. Last Saturday night after I finished the 7:00 p.m. Mass at Fatima, I noticed a bunch of cars parked at the old rectory. I went in to see what was happening and walked into a Spanish Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I sat and listened and was amazed. I caught a bit more than half of what was being said and picked up some colorful new vocabulary along the way, but what was amazing was that I was witnessing witnesses to the resurrection. They were people who hit rock bottom and were mired in the darkest darkness and then met someone or found a place that gave them hope and freedom. They were witnesses to how their “higher power” had changed their lives. They were witnesses to hope – points of light – for others to follow. There was a change that others could see. The joy and the sense of community were amazing in this group of strangers – anonymous people – who saw themselves as family – brothers and sisters in the struggle together – brothers and sisters on the road together. Until one meets someone who has been freed, one doesn’t think it is possible. What the testimonies have in common is that at some point the person has to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow another. If one is always blaming something or someone else or doesn’t think they have a problem, they will not get better. If they think they can beat it on their own, they won’t get better. Taking up the cross is to embrace it as “my problem” – not to run from it, ignore it, deny it, or try to escape from it. Letting go of or losing one’s own power and surrendering to a higher power is how one saves one’s life. Most of the members would admit or freely say that AA saved their life. If it was not for AA, they would be literally dead.
We, as a Church, can learn a lot form AA, especially in regards to responding to this crisis and our wounded brothers and sisters and those who have left the Church. We need to re-propose the event of Christianity in the witness of what has happened in us – the change that the Lord has worked in us. What we are going through gives us all the opportunity to respond to the question Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” What has Jesus done in my life? Why am I a Catholic and remain a Catholic? How has he turned my filth into something new? Peter believes that Jesus is the Christ because he has experienced a love that is greater than his sin. The moment we think we have the right answers, the moment we think we become the measuring rod for good behavior, we’ve taken the relationship with Christ for granted and start to go out without him. This is the obstacle – the scandal – and why Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter has become arrogant and has stopped following. He has to get back behind Jesus in order to follow. The root of the crisis is a forgetting of the relationship that has changed our lives and the arrogance that we can go forward without Christ – that we can follow him without taking up the cross.
Let’s offer the world our witness that Christ is at work here and now in our lives. Faith cannot be reduced to just having the right answer – just words or pious gestures or moral norms. May this crises be a cross that we take up to be reawakened to and witness to who Jesus is for us. That is the only thing capable of responding to the hurt and pain and darkness. Each of us has a witness to contribute to the church today. What is yours?