Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How I'm Stepping Forward in Hope

The hard wooden pew supported my back and blue lace framed my face as I looked towards the ambo. My pastor spoke earnestly about the need to ask Mary for her intercession during this time of crisis, his voice piercing the early Saturday morning daze. A hushed silence filled the church as we lifted our hearts in prayer together. And then it came. A song that I have not thought of in months sprang into my mind: 

Take my love.
Take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care,
I'm still free.
You can't take the sky from me.

The theme song of the TV show Firefly captures well the resiliency and determination of a rather motley crew of individuals as they fight to stay out of the government's grasp. The words manifest a sort of courage to keep going in spite of difficulties and sufferings. And as these verses moved through my mind, I gazed at the altar; the place where Christ Himself was present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. A long line of people snaked down the center aisle of the church.Words kept pulsing through my mind as we walked in humble anticipation, preparing to receive the King of Kings into our bodies. 

You can't take the sky from me.

We may struggle to stand-or even kneel-in hope during this dark time, but we have not been abandoned. Throughout the history of the  Catholic Church, there have been crises and scandals. The Church is the beautiful Bride of Christ, but we--her members--are sinful and fall astray. There have been dark times in the past, and we are certainly living through some dark days now. And yet, Christ is here on the altar, shining forth through the darkness of violence, abuse, and betrayal. Christ, who was handed over to be scourged, abused, and crucified by one of his close followers. Christ, who freely offers Himself to us in the gift of the Eucharist in spite of all the ways that we turn away from Him through our sinful actions. Betrayals and cover-ups by some members of the clergy cannot take this tremendous gift away from us. 

The timing of it all is uncanny. This month-a month which features prominent Marian feasts-news of scandals and abuse have been filling our ears. Simultaneously, due to the cycle of readings at Mass, we have also been hearing passages from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, the Bread of Life discourse: 

Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (Jn 6:53-54)

The Eucharist, the flesh and blood of Jesus, sustains us. It draws us together. In a time of confusion and outrage, we can--and should--draw more closely to Christ. I know that some people have been withdrawing from God because they are so hurt from the news of abuses and cover-ups. I know that this time has been particularly difficult for those men and women who have suffered from abuse in some way. I cannot imagine how challenging it would be for a victim of abuse to hear about these scandals. I hope and pray that all people--including those who have suffered such indignities and cruelties--will cling more closely to God in this time and find comfort in His embrace. 

As we grapple with the abuses and atrocities that have been (and continue to be) committed, I've found that we can get swept up in the noise and chaos of it all. While it is very good, important, and necessary to speak about the crisis and become informed about the facts of the situation, it is very easy to move into the realm of doing before thinking, speaking before praying, and worrying before trusting. Just a few days after the reports from Pennsylvania were made public, I found myself becoming agitated. The more I read, the more anxious I grew. While it is appropriate to have an amount of outrage and displeasure in the abuses and cover-ups, I found myself tipping into a place of disquiet. I was not embracing the peace of Christ, and I was not placing my trust fully in Him. 

And so, I took a step back.

I stopped checking news about the scandals obsessively. I stopped worrying about why certain leaders were doing or not doing certain things as quickly as I thought they could be done. I pulled back from the online chatter. One afternoon, instead of grabbing for my laptop to read the latest news while my toddler napped, my eyes settled on a book that I have meant to read for months. I picked it up, and was immediately blown away by how much I needed this book right now:  The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise, by Robert Cardinal Sarah.

The message of peaceful silence and contemplation, of truly profound prayer, is one that my broken and imperfect heart has been needing to learn in this time. It's tempting to think that I am capable of keeping a spirit of deep prayer while diving into the noisy hubbub of life, but I've found that I'm just not in a place where I can do that yet.  Maybe this isn't what you need, but it's certainly what I need to be doing right now. I need to work on developing a life steeped in external silence. In this time of crisis, I am stepping forward in hope by moving back into silence. As Cardinal Sarah observes:

"Once we have acquired interior silence, we can transport it with us into the world and pray everywhere. But just as interior asceticism cannot be obtained without concrete mortifications, it is absurd to speak about interior silence without exterior silence...the life of silence must be able to precede the active life" (19). 

Speak up in this time of crisis. Engage in dialogue with others. Support and encourage your local priests and bishops to stand for truth, justice, and accountability. But don't be afraid to pull back, away from the noise of our twenty-four hour news cycle and the buzz of social media. 

To engage in silent contemplation of God. 
To nurture deep prayer and fasting. 
To grow in the peace of Christ. 

In her diary, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska notes that:  
"The Lord has poured such a depth of peace into my soul that nothing will disturb it any more. Despite everything that goes on around me, I am not deprived of my peace for a moment. Even if the whole world were crumbling, it would not disturb the depth of the silence which is within me and in which God rests" (#1134). 
May we all aspire to reach this level of sanctity.


For a beautifully compassionate discussion of different steps we can take during this time, I recommend checking out Blessed is She's article: On the Catholic Clergy Abuse + What We Can Do.

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