Saturday, June 04, 2011

Confronting the Mess

It's Saturday morning Mass. Tim and Kolbe sit up front. I seek refuge in the back with John and Ainsley, who at one and three are certainly cherubic but definitely Not Ready for Prime Time Players.

Sunday Mass can be a bit dicey with these two (and that's why we love! our! nursery!), but the rest of the week is trickier still. Take one large basilica with a vaulted ceiling, subtract all but about twenty people, and add two chatty toddlers. The echo alone could deafen you.

But this particular morning I enjoy nine, maybe ten minutes of sweet meditation before Ainsley erupts with a series of shrieks that sends me seeking the anonymity of the cry room. In those blessed moments, I thanked God for this church, this parish that holds so many dear memories for me.

It was here that I first came to know Dave through the singles' group.  Here I first noticed his wit and his intelligence and his brown eyes.

It was here that we were married with a throng of friends and family to celebrate the start of our life together.

It was here that three of our children were baptized and two have received First Communion.

I love this church. It's not really close to home. We have had a rapid succession of priests over the past six or seven years. The parish is facing monumental budgetary and other divisive issues. I love it still.

I love the Catholic Church.
As I sat reflecting on my own little history, my mind briefly wandered to the larger history of the church which in recent years has included sad, sad stories of betrayal and abuse. It's been a terrible season for many -- including those who love the Catholic faith.

In many ways I consider myself an idealist. I like to think the best, assume the best. I like to believe that people are who they say they are. Idealists set themselves up to be disappointed.

I spent many years as an officer in the Army Reserves. I remember studying ethics as a young cadet. When officers taught us about Duty, Honor, and Country, I believed what they said, I embraced this code of honor. I felt better for being part of an honorable profession. I was commissioned and began my military career. Then, Naval officers made headlines with their behavior at a convention called Tailhook. And I saw first hand corruption and fraud run rampant in one of my reserve units. And the service academies were rocked with cheating scandals. And news came of drill sergeants having their way with young recruits. And then Abu Ghraib. And...

And I grieved.

Of course none of these scandals erased the heroic work of the many, many fine soldiers I knew and respected. But all of them left a painful mark on the profession I grew to love. All of this is nothing compared to the pain of the scandals that have rocked my precious church.

Morley Safer of 60 Minutes recently interviewed Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.  In this excerpt they discuss the sex abuse scandal:

It's a crisis Dolan witnessed firsthand as archbishop of Milwaukee. He was sent there to replace a bishop who resigned amid his own sex scandal, and Dolan had to deal with a rash of child abuse cases. He revealed the names of 43 predatory priests and had to sell church property to pay tens of millions of dollars to victims.

"Those where some of the more difficult, wrenching, touching moments in my life. Some of them were terribly painful and did not go well. Others I remember with gratitude, crying together, praying together. Those were very powerful moments that you don't forget," Dolan recalled.

"Do you fear that after effects of these scandals are just gonna live on and on and on?" Safer asked.

"In some ways I don't want it to be over because this was such a crisis in the Catholic church, that in a way we don't wanna get over it too easily. This needs to haunt us," Dolan said.

I have a dear friend who fervently rejoices that all this has come to light. We will be a holier church, he says, A more humble church for confronting our greatest failings, our dirt and our muck.

Both he and the dear Archbishop are Catholics of much greater faith than I. They have the courage to face the mess head on. I just want it to be over and fast, not slowly. I don't want our dirt and muck paraded across banner headlines and salacious Internet sites.

For many years it involved someone in Boston or Milwaukee or L.A.. An unknown face, an unfamiliar name, an awful list of crimes. And then one day it was a known face, a familiar name, an awful list of crimes, and a victim I know. Both perpetrator and victim -- people I know. I have spent time with them; I have shared meals with them.

And I grieve.

I grieve for the grave breach of trust that has scarred so many children, so many parents, so many good priests.

I grieve for violations that will never be fully healed on this side of eternity.

I grieve for faithful parishioners who sacrificed money thinking they were giving to the building fund or to the missions or to the poor and, in fact, were funding massive lawsuits.

I grieve for a priest I know -- a rather straight-laced and proper man -- who, at the height of this miserable affair, felt compelled to share from the pulpit, "In my loneliest, horniest moments, I have never desired a child."

I grieve for the many, many people who look upon this mess and confuse capricious, carnal man with an all-loving God who thirsts for them.

It is a mess -- a sad, sorry, sordid mess.

In this valley of tears we call planet Earth, there is mess and there is Mess. Macro Mess and micro mess.

We occasionally have a Sunday morning that seems to simply implode. The whiny toddler, the missing shoes, the slumbering teenager, the testy remark -- trifles, really, a hundred bits of irritant, the whole somehow exceeding the sum of the parts. And there we sit, stand, and kneel in Mass, and all I can pray is, "Lord, redeem this mess."

At the end of day, Christ came because we have grouchy teenagers and defiant three-year-olds and spouses sometimes at odds with each other. Micro mess.

He also came because we have pedophile priests and dishonorable soldiers and hypocritical politicians. Macro Mess.

Christ came to redeem all of it.


Anonymous said...

Kelly this is such a thoughtful and honest post about emotions and events that can't really be put into words. As you say, Christ is bigger than all our stupidities, and we need to let go and move forward in our imperfection. I think as well as grieving we need to work on forgiving, too. Not in a self-righteous way, but as you say from knowing that in our own lives we can sometimes make a bit of a mess too.
Our adopted son was horribly abused and I occasionally see his birth mother in town. It's a challenge!

Kelly said...

Wow, Christine. Thanks for sharing that. It's so easy to think pious thoughts, but fail miserably when confronted with forgiveness in flesh and blood.