Every step is uphill. It can take half an hour to put in a contact lens, longer than that to create a brief email message. I can easily get lost trying to find my way into a building, something that happened just this week at Panera.
I can't get enough of sitting on my deck in the afternoons, listening to the raucous of cicadas singing overhead. They drown out even thought, and pull all of me upward and into the tops of the trees. I don't know whether there are thousands, or only ten.
Concentration lumbers, with an occasional spark providing just enough to keep me going. Internally, the dialog with myself sustains me. "I'm okay. This will be okay. Lord, order my steps." It slows me to doing one thing at a time.
And the weight of it bearing down increases until the day of the Equinox, the 22nd of September, when it finally lifts. In, fact, it lifts immediately. At the time of Equinox, day and night are exactly the same length in duration. The earth knows it. The trees know it. The critters know it. And I know it. For some reason, my body is particularly sensitive to this. I feel it in spring, too, every year, but not as intensely as in the fall. I have for as long as I can remember.
I also feel distracted, and more easily defeated and discouraged, and out of sync with myself. I want it to be over. At the same time, I don't want to race toward the Equinox because I love hot weather.
And now there's the added weight that bears down on us all--recent revelations of Cardinal McCarrick's abuse of power with Catholic seminarians, the dismissal of priests in the Lincoln Diocese, and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Tuesday. Unfortunately, to many it's no great surprise.
Along with everyone else, I've waited and read and listened all week for a clear response from priests, from Bishops, from the Vatican. Thus far, all have answered in benign, bland, and woefully inadequate terms through carefully crafted statements in curbed language--"difficulties, sadness, discouragement, sympathy, support, tragedy, prayers for the victims." At the same time, I've listened intently to what is not being said.
Difficulties but not abuse of power. Sad and discouraged, but not seriously pissed. Focus on the victims, avoidance of specific and strong reference to perpetrators.
There's also the tendency to fall back on the changes that have been implemented since 2002, primarily through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and the belief that there are now fewer instances of abuse, along with the fact that much of this took place in the distant past.
And always prayers for the victims. Prayers for the victims. Prayers for the victims.
Along with this, there's a lot of Church-ese and heavy spiritualizing of the problem. (The need to pray harder, pray more, pray better.) One local priest exhorted his flock to pray the St. Michael Lent until his feast day on September 29th--forty-five days of praying penance for the church!
We're not going to solve this problem with prayer. Prayer or lack of prayer didn't create this problem. Power, secrecy, and corruption did. We're going to solve this problem with transparency and accountability.
On Friday morning, I sat for more than an hour with our priest, asking for his response. Asking how he felt. Asking whether my read on things is accurate when it truly appears to me that priests in general do not feel the fury and anguish and pain and despair the rest of us feel when these things occur. (Surely, some do.) He never gave me a full answer. I ended up saying, "Father, the only legitimate response to this, along with action, is outrage."
I said it twice.
Even Fr. James Martin, one of the priests whom I most admire and respect, stated yesterday in a Facebook post: "Eventually every attorney general in every city and state will be emboldened by the success of the Pennsylvania attorney general to ask grand juries to unseal the records in their cities and states. Does the church truly want this?"
To which many of us responded, "Yes, Fr. Jim. This is exactly what the church wants!"
(In case you are unaware, Canon Law dictates that every instance of abuse be accurately recorded. Canon Law also dictates that these records remain secret.)
This morning I left in the middle of Mass because, although in his homily our deacon spoke to the problem (more sadness, discouragement, sympathy, support, etc. etc. etc.), again the language was not strong enough, no call for reform made, no outrage expressed. I listened hard to detect any reference to the abuse issue in the Prayers of the Faithful, something I'd specifically requested. It simply wasn't there. So I walked out, trying to contain my grief, tears, and the huge build up of energy in my body. I went into the Gathering Space and wrote one in our Parish Book of Prayer. It was the most I could do in the moment, and it says something like this:
That the perpetrators of abuse in the Catholic Church will be held accountable for their actions in a way that brings effective justice to all victims. They have harmed all of us. They have damaged my witness, along with the witness of all faithful priests and laity.
But I came back for Communion. I came back for Communion because IT'S MY CHURCH, TOO. Seriously, and for many reasons, it's a challenge for me to stay. It's a challenge for me to stay because I'm convinced that any closed system with this much power cannot monitor and reform itself. The Church should reconsider its position on celibacy, which tends to keep our priests insulated and isolated, and contributes to an environment of secrecy. And we must somehow change patriarchal culture, which denies women a meaningful role in leadership, and is as damaging to men as it is to women.
And why do I stay? That is a question I live with, that I weigh on an almost daily basis. My husband, thankfully, knows this, and listens, and is able to support me in my deep frustration. He feels it too.
And why do I stay?
I stay because I have a voice and I am able to use it. It's one hard-won, honest voice of truth, questioning, and encouragement. I stay because, as I keep urging others to do, I want to step up, engage, and make it the church that I want to be part of. At least, I hope this is still true.
And why do I stay?
I came into the Catholic Church twenty years ago because of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is probably what keeps me here. I stay because I have not yet sensed that the Spirit of God is leading me elsewhere.
Also, I stay because when I think of the Church, I see faces. I see faces of people whom I love dearly. I see faces of sincerely faithful people who are growing in their love for Christ, and are living a generous life in service to others. I see faces of young parents who trust me enough to support and involve their children in the Faith Formation Program I've worked so hard to develop.
And I stay also because present among us are those who offer wisdom, compassion, hope and vision. We can draw strength from them. Those among us who, like Ilia Deleo, help us to bear the weight of the present moment:
"In the past, clerical power came from the laity, the “unlettered,” who submitted to the authority of the priest, as if submitting to the power of God. In the future ecclesial power will come from the community of gathered persons who will be set free by the power of God within; who will resist patriarchy in all forms, who will rise up in a new church concelebrated by women and men, inclusive of all gender types, all races, all languages, all colors, all broken and divorced hearts, all those in search of healing, mercy and compassion; a church that will empower the present for a new future of life. “The days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I will raise up a new church which will not deceive as a finished church but as the unfolding of My Life in an unfinished universe. For my work is loving the world; the Living Christ is still coming to be.” ~ Ilia Deleo, Facebook 19 August 2018