Saturday, September 1, 2018

Even in the Worst Times, the Lord is Here and He Leads Us

The Collect for this liturgical week in the Roman Missal (the 21st week of Ordinary time) is a very helpful prayer for all Christians facing difficulties, and for discerning the path ahead in these particularly opaque times.

Many of us can't find the way through all the confusion caused by the chaos of these sins and crimes that continue to be revealed, that occurred in the Catholic world over the past three quarters of a century.

We hear again of all the abuses of authority, the peculiarly deep personal destructiveness of a sexuality divorced from God's plan for human life and love and weaponized in the service of pride and lust, and all the failures to stop the offenders or to protect or even attend to the victims of this predatory violence.

It is horrible, and we are horrified. But many of us find that we are just being driven down further into the confusion. Nor do we find clarity from the flare-up on the Internet and other media of indiscriminate accusations and loud arguments from many sides, with all their conflicting interpretations of events and proposals for change.

We want to do God's will. We want to hear the voices and respond with compassion and care for those whose humanity has been so profoundly violated. We want to hold perpetrators accountable as well as those in authority who actually could have stopped these predators but failed to take necessary action. And we want to support real and constructive reforms.

But we can so easily find the constant flow of instant news information and blog and social media polemics overwhelming, perplexing, or even triggering to the pain of our own psychological and emotional wounds. Many of us who hear constantly in these days about the current scandals have our own terrible struggles with mental illness, and don't have the resources to process (psychologically or even physically) the enormous stress and tension that have pervaded the Catholic environment. Many of us also are broken because we too have been abused in some serious way by people in the Church or the wider world, in sexuality or other areas involving a deep personal trust that has been betrayed or manipulated.

So for us this moment in the life of the Church means more suffering, often in ways that render us incapable of putting all the whirlwind of information and opinions and arguments into some kind of healthy perspective.

One thing that must be said, however, is that those who are suffering from the awful effects of clerical sexual abuse must not be forgotten. They have priority. They are—in a very urgent way at this time—Christ suffering in his members. It would be a further abuse to use these people as just a pretext for pushing someone's ecclesiastical political agenda. When ideologies crystallize, real persons are easily forgotten, and even the most zealous advocates for justice end up replacing the old injustices of others with new injustices of their own.

We must remember the people who are suffering.

Each victim of sexual abuse is a unique, individual human person with his or her own story of violation, betrayal, and pain. Their sufferings are cries to God that he hears. He wants his people and his ministers in the Church to remember him by listening with compassion to the stories of these persons. So much suffering afflicts Christians and others because people entrusted with the special vocation to be servants and instruments of God's love in the world have forgotten God.

What can we do? The "field hospital" is filled way beyond its capacity. Can the Divine Physician count on his ministers and co-workers to tend the wounded, and also to build a healthier environment? 

Of course, the Lord will not fail us with his grace. He himself carries all the depths of our suffering. He who mysteriously accompanies from within every human being will also inspire in the hearts of some of the Church's members the compassion for the needs of persons, the insight, and the sense of justice that will lead to reform. He is already working, even through the awkward disagreements of people of good faith. He is working most specially in those who give primary attention to caring for the victims, who listen to their pain and to the Holy Spirit who whispers therein his will for the whole Church.

Christians must help in whatever way they have been empowered by the Spirit of God. But we do not know the depths of God's plan, the mystery of the profound goodness that he wills to bring forth from out of the consequences he permits when he allows creatures to misuse their freedom.

God really is good. All the time. And some of us may be called simply to walk through the dark valley, without the comfort of knowing-what's-going-on or the sense of having accomplished anything. Being overwhelmed and feeling "lost" and powerless are not ultimately indicative of defeat. God is in charge. The heart of the Church is Jesus Christ crucified who conquers death and gives eternal life, whose ultimate "weakness" reveals the final, absolute power of Divine love. (I tell myself this, even when I don't feel it.)

We accomplish God's will, in our work and in our suffering, by following Jesus in faith and love, by trusting (maybe in desperation, but never giving up) the mercy of the Father who has loved us first and who loves us now (however troubled we may be). We will find confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit who renews the Church and continually impels her members, even with their flaws, to go forth and witness to the salvation of the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There is a battle, indeed, but the battle has already been won. We experience tribulation as we respond to God's call. We try to do his will, we fail, we repent. He allows all of us to suffer in different ways (and we will all be divested of our human powers by death) but this is only so that we might have a share in his suffering and thus share in the fullness of his victory.

We need to remember that we belong to Jesus Christ. He has taken hold of our lives, and he reaches others through us, not only through our constructive activity, but also (and especially) through our suffering.

Let us adhere to God's love, whether we are seeking justice, doing works of mercy, spending our talents and energy in his service, fighting against evil, or suffering and finding that all we can do is hold onto him within our helplessness, that all we can do is die with him.

God has come to stay with us. If we remember him, if we open our hearts and let him love us, he will transform us. He will give meaning to everything in our lives.

The prayer from this week helps us to remember him:

"O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever."