Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Church Today: Is There Anyone We Can Trust?

Today has been a difficult day for many Catholic Christians in the USA. Above all it is difficult for those who have been reminded by yesterday's Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report of the sexual abuse and related sufferings they have endured at the hands of members of the Church's clergy and hierarchy.

The horror of it is staggering, unimaginable. The victims deserve justice. And they desperately need healing.

And we are all reminded once again that the treasure of Christ is held (as it always has been) in immensely fragile earthen vessels. Some remolding and purification can be sought through penance, humility, and prayer—not merely as appropriate external postures but above all as the expression of profound contrition (sorrow) that entails genuine conversion of hearts, an appropriate and concrete assumption of responsibility, and a real reparation for sin and its destructiveness. Thus we may hope that the dioceses that make up the Catholic Church in the USA can be shaped by God's infinite mercy into more faithful and trustworthy ecclesial realities.

But so many of us may find ourselves tempted by an oppressive anxiety that wants to draw us away from our hope in Jesus Christ, and to focus on ourselves and our own preoccupations. After all, who can we trust in the Church? Who will keep us focused on Him, and lead us to Him through this Church made up of people who are at least as sinful, ignorant, and cowardly as we are?

There are many doctrinal and theological ways to address these questions, but one approach has a unique personal richness. Indeed, it's interesting that these anxious questions about trust are relevant precisely to the person in the Church and the event of history that we celebrate today. Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, has been drawn up, "assumed" in her entire spiritual and bodily reality, into the Kingdom, the resurrected life, the beginning of the New Creation.

Mary, "Immaculate," without sin from the beginning. Mary, "Panagia," the All-Holy one. Mary, living in the fullness of glory, soul and body, with Jesus and entirely dependent on Him, and with the Church, in all the intimacy of her person as Virgin Mother of God.

And through the total embrace of her motherhood she is also present with each one of us, in the Church and beyond the Church—present with every human person.

Mary is really and truly our Mother.

We can too easily "forget" about Mary. Thank God, she is such a good mother that she never forgets about us. Her heart has an immense supernatural ardor for us, and immense wisdom to impart to us. And she has been gifted with the particular secret of who each of us is called to be.

It's very important, in these troubled times, for all of us to know that alongside Jesus there is one person in the Church who will never fail us.  It's especially important for those who have been wounded deeply by men entrusted with the ministry of the Gospel.

Mary is a real, living, glorified person, and—just as she was entirely free from the distortion of sin in her historical life—so also (and even more) her perfection is total, radical, and complete in her glorified life. She loves us and she is absolutely reliable, trustworthy, and mysteriously (but really) close to each one of us. We have all been entrusted to her care, and she will never let us down.

We need to draw closer to her. She brings Jesus and us together in all the impenetrable details of life. God was born of a woman, and then He gave that woman to us. She is our Mother.

Say it: "Mary is our mother. Mary is my mother. I am loved."

She is a good mother. Let's all just go to her and be children. Let's go to her especially with whatever wounds we have. Mary sees all our wounds inside the wounds of her Son (which doesn't take away from the fact that they are truly "our" wounds, our crippled emotions, our anxiety, our questions, our sufferings).

When all we see and feel around us are walls pressing in and our minds are spiraling down a bottomless hole, we can always cry out to her, cry the incomprehensible pain, cry from our hunger and need, cry like little babies.

She hears us.

Of course, Jesus never abandons us. Mary's love is entirely engendered by the supernatural sanctifying gift of Him who alone is Lord of the cosmos and history. Mary's motherhood is the fruit of Jesus's love—for her and for each of us.

Jesus accompanies us with Mary and through Mary, so that her maternal tenderness can reach us even in the darkest places. Mary's motherhood, with its special quality that makes human space for the nurturing of every person in his or her uniqueness, finds us as orphans and makes us anew as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Everything begins with Mary: reform in the Church, reform of our hearts, conversion, reparation, forgiveness, healing, freedom from addictions, freedom from the endless spiral of sexual abuse and all forms of violence, freedom from sin, freedom to be persons living in communion with God and with one another. Everything begins with Mary! She is that "lowly servant" of the Lord who always says "yes" to Him. She proclaims Him as the One who "lifts up the poor" and "fills the hungry with good things."

The poor and the hungry have always sought her. We too, in the technologically sophisticated, materially rich American church of 2018, must acknowledge that we are desperately poor and hungry. We must recognize that we are her children, and we must cry out to her in our need.

For many centuries, this cry has taken an especially efficacious form as a prayer inspired by the Gospel of Luke. We need to learn how to say these words anew with childlike trust and boundless hope:

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women.
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us, sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

When we are lost, hurt, alone, violated, betrayed, ignored, or trapped in some other impossible way, Mary takes us in her arms—arms that we can trust—and carries us. She doesn't necessarily "solve" all the complicated aspects of our problems (not right away, at least).

But she carries us and cares for us with a gentle, attentive, strong solicitude. She loves us in our brokenness, wherever we are, and she takes us into her healing ways, her measure of time, and her patience.

She will teach us how to walk and how to grow strong with the strength that comes from knowing that we are loved, and that we do not need to be afraid.

Mary, merciful and loving Mother, help us!