I have wrestled competing emotions these past few weeks over the scandals coming to light in the Catholic Church in America, and elsewhere. Fear and anger mixed with a profound grief that feels something like abandonment.
Abandonment by a trusted father. Betrayal by those whose missions were to protect and serve but whose power was misused to coerce and terrorize.
But I will never leave.
Today I sat in the third row in a creaking wooden pew, running my hands along the smooth surface mellowed by decades of worshippers sitting, standing, and kneeling in the place I now occupied. I was there for the closing of the diocesan phase of Servant of God Julia Greeley’s cause. Julia was a beloved figure in the early Church in Northern Colorado. At her death in 1918, she was mourned en masse, her open casket lying in state for hundreds of mourners over a period of several days. Born into slavery in Missouri, she found her life’s calling as a free woman in Colorado, working menial labor, spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and preaching the Gospel with her life.
She died with almost nothing to her name, and people came to mourn her as if she were a queen.
Archbishop Aquila preached briefly about Julia’s virtue and her simple, hidden witness to holiness. He likened her witness to the witness of St. Lawrence, the martyr whose feast we commemorate today. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, looking out at the assembled faithful in the pews, “it isn’t the authorities or political leaders or the executioners whose names we remember 1800 years or a century later, it’s Lawrence’s name. And Julia’s.”
A hundred years from now, what will Catholics in 2118 say about the Church at the turn of the 21st century? Will they remember a vicious predator who charmed the media and the powers that be while hiding his true nature behind a mask of power and privilege, or will they remember a generation of faithful Catholics who rose up and demanded that the masks be stripped away, that all the wickedness and poison be exposed to the harsh – and perhaps lethal – light of day.
Will they remember a faithful who doubled down in penance and reparation for sin, offering up their own sacrifices and sufferings to purify the Bride of Christ? Or will they remember a mass exodus of people finally fed up with hypocrisy and failure, resigned to seek their spiritual sustenance elsewhere?
I am angry. I am desperate for transparency and justice and for a profound reckoning of the atrocities committed by men whose very lives are meant to emulate the Good Shepherd, and who instead pattern themselves after Satan, the Father of Lies.
But I will never leave. I would rather die than leave the Bride of Christ alone in Her suffering, or turn away from the Eucharist which is the source and summit of our life.
I am angry and I am hurt and I am deeply, deeply confused.
And I will never leave.
Jesus, give us the grace we need to endure the horror of exposing the rot and the wreckage, the festering and the fractured. Keep us close to the heart of your Mother who knows firsthand the cost of the betrayal of an apostle. Who extended her arms to receive Your mutilated and lifeless body as it was lowered from the Cross.
She did not run from the betrayal that pierced her heart seven times. She endured. She persisted. She united her broken heart to Yours.
We must demand a profound self examination from our clergy, and from ourselves. And we must brace ourselves for the chaos of what is to come.
And we must beg Jesus for the strength to endure, to hold on when it is more tempting to cut and run.