I’ve spoken many times about the hardest time in my life.
Just after my daughter was born, after the rape, during the period where I was still struggling with the priest I’ve called “Father Reginald,” I was a basket case. We were a breath away from homelessness every single month. Our apartment was a mold-infested wreck in a building that ought to be condemned. Our upstairs neighbor was completely insane and kept us awake by cursing out her boyfriend all night long, but that didn’t matter because I couldn’t sleep anyway from post-traumatic stress.
The Church wasn’t exactly a comforting refuge during that time. It wasn’t just the situation with Father Reginald. Local Catholics, with a few notable exceptions, wanted to verbally abuse rather than help. Many Steubenville Catholics honestly seem to think that poverty is God’s punishment to bad and lazy moochers. If LifeSite News or another scandal rag ever decides to do a hit piece on me, they’ll have plenty of material. I was disgusted by my fellow Catholics because of the example I was seeing all around me, and I said so in particularly salty ways more often than I’m proud of.
During this time, I used to go to Communion and Liberation meetings with a local group. This was my only socialization, and also my only contact with people of faith outside of grudgingly dragging myself to church on Sundays. I was too traumatized and discouraged for anything else, but I went to these meetings whenever I could. I wasn’t particularly drawn to the theology they studied there, though as far as I know it’s perfectly good theology. I am never drawn to theology. I’m drawn to love. There were some loving people in the Communion and Liberation group.
The leader, in particular, a charismatic little woman who wore colorful jewelry and had a rainbow paper pinwheel in her car, used to look up and cheer whenever I came in. She not only bothered to get acquainted with me; she acted like she was genuinely glad I was there. I couldn’t imagine why. I was horrible company. Half the time I burst into tears, or ran into the corner to sob my way through a flashback. Anyone else would have told me not to come back, but she told me she’d be sad if she didn’t see me the next week.
This woman is the “neighbor” I spoke about in the Corpus Christi essay. I quietly admitted to her that we were completely out of food and toilet paper with one week left to go in the month; and suddenly she was at my back porch with food and toilet paper. And not just any food and toilet paper. This was the very best kind. She brought a jumbo-sized package of the luxurious, thick name-brand toilet paper we could never afford. I’d mentioned we needed milk, and she brought me organic whole milk. I’d mentioned we were out of rice, and she brought Jasmine rice. She brought chicken when I’d been ashamed to ask for meat at all, plus grapes, apples, fancy pre-cut cubes of cheese, a bar of organic dark chocolate and a gallon of Haagen Daas.
I tried to thank her.
“You’d do the same for me,” she said.
There was another lady at Communion and Liberation meetings, a farmer who was not at all rich. About a third of her meager income came from the CSAs and seedlings that she grew. When she heard that the vegetables I was growing in the apartment building’s yard to stretch out our food budget had been eaten by a groundhog, she brought me six cauliflower plants and a bag of heirloom bean seeds. Several times, she gave us the week’s egg money so that we had treats for Christmas and Thanksgiving. I gave her an icon I painted of Saint Gabriel, the patron of artists, because she is a writer.
The farmer is Rebecca Bratten Weiss, the woman who was horrifically smeared by LifeSite News’s hit piece yesterday. I understand she’s also been fired by Franciscan University, so please keep her in your prayers.
The Communion and Liberation leader is Suzanne Lewis, who was dragged into the hit piece and smeared as well. I don’t know her husband, Stephen Lewis, very well. But sometimes Suzanne would invite me to Communion and Liberation parties, wonderful parties that always ended in a sing-a-long. At those parties, Stephen complimented my voice and chatted with Michael and me, even though we were shabby people and not at all good company.
I never pretended to be an expert in theology. But I know that it’s the duty of a good Catholic to adore Christ. And I know that John Chrysostom said that you can’t adore Christ in the chalice if you fail to see Him in the beggar.
I have been a beggar.
It’s not my place to judge between Rebecca, Suzanne and Stephen on the one hand and the person who wrote the hit piece on the other. That judgement is always God’s. But I know who gave a good Catholic witness to me.
(image via Pixabay)