A Smoldering Wick In Church

A Smoldering Wick In Church August 19, 2018

All things considered, it has been a hell of a weak.

I’m not swearing there; I’m actually saying the week has been a week that felt like one of the outer circles of hell.

The news of the horrific clerical abuses in the state of Pennsylvania hit on the same day we had to call the police on the neighbor I’ve referred to as “Miss Manners” once again– I was, in fact, drafting the post about the abuse when I had to take a break to call 911 because she was stalking the property line with her dog, bellowing curses at my husband as he tried to mow the lawn. My anxiety went through the roof and stayed there for days.

In this state of anxiety I wrote about my outrage quite honestly, and I don’t take back a single word. I believe in honesty. Many people thanked me, but some were cross and accused me of “bitching;” I was also told that “with an attitude like that, you might as well leave.” As if I hadn’t considered leaving and concluded that I couldn’t a thousand times. I am often floored by the smugness of certain believers– they truly think that chasing away the struggling is a Godly act. They don’t seem to realize that the Messiah does not break bruised reeds or quench smoldering wicks– He strengthens those who are weak. Catholics ought to be like him, but the example I’ve been shown recently is to humiliate anyone who expresses any weakness or wavering whatsoever. I ought to be able to deal with such things more graciously– but then again, I am a bad Catholic.

Then, yesterday afternoon, the icing on the cake.

A friend shared one of my posts, complimenting it and asking his followers to observe my virtual tip jar which is my source of income to feed my family. I was flattered and grateful. Then a woman from here in Steubenville found the post.

“I thought she left the Church?” asked the woman.

My friends noticed this and went to explain that I hadn’t. The woman responded by acting as though she was being attacked. She claimed to have seen me make a public renunciation of faith on Facebook after a fight with Karl Keating several months ago, which I didn’t do and wouldn’t think to do. I’ve barely spoken to Karl Keating. I avoid him whenever possible. She went on for more than an hour, doubling down, gaslighting, telling people that she was sure I wasn’t a Catholic in good standing no matter how many people corrected her, on a post that was all about my livelihood as a Catholic blogger. Two other Steubenville graduates I’ve never met got on to yell at anyone who’d spoken out on my behalf.  Finally, after my reputation had been attacked in public for a good long time, I found the thread and responded as gracefully as I could, which wasn’t very. I am a bad Catholic.

She honestly didn’t seem to understand why I was upset, but she eventually admitted she was mistaken.

When I woke up this morning, I was in a low place.

I didn’t want to go to Mass.

Nobody I knew wanted to go to Mass.

Plenty of people I know admitted that they’d skipped. They didn’t want to hear what a priest had to say after what we all know priests have done to the most vulnerable. They were disgusted, traumatized, hurt, and I don’t blame them in the least.

I decided to go to Mass anyway. Not because I’m better than those who stayed home– I’m probably worse. It’s just what I decided to do. I bribed myself to walk out the door by putting on my favorite skirt and teal scarf. I made myself sing along with the hymns because I like to sing. I bit my lip and stewed, a stormcloud of anger but as quiet as I could manage, for the rest of it, but I was there.

I am not Catholic for the company. I am Catholic for Christ. That’s what I keep telling myself. But it isn’t enough– it cannot be enough. Christ is supposed to come to us through people. That’s how it’s supposed to work– human beings, souls embodied in human flesh,  from the apostles right down to the present day, preaching the Word and baptizing for the forgiveness of sins, strengthening one another, living the Gospel. That’s how the Church is meant to work– not just some philosophy or moral code but a people who are one in Christ, as Christ and the Father are one.

I received my earthly life and my physical body from my mother and father– or rather from God, through the life-giving act of my mother and father. I received the seal of Baptism and eternal life through Father M at the Cathedral, God rest his soul–the life of Christ from Christ, through the physical hands of Father M. I learned my catechism from Christ at the feet of Sisters M and C, and I received my first Holy Communion from Christ through the hands of Father D. The seal of Confirmation I got from the Holy Ghost, through Bishop G. The priests through whom Christ forgave my sins are too many to name. And I don’t think I’ll be able to express my gratitude until I see them in Paradise. It is good that I am here.

But I’ve also been wounded by the hands of Catholics who claimed they were acting on Christ’s authority, and to say that hasn’t sunk into my religious practice would be lying. I received my scruples about the Eucharist from Sister C, who told me there was a certain way to reverently chew the Host and lick the crumbs off your hands and that everything else was sacrilegious. I received the superstitious notion that God causes calamities to punish people from my mother and her Charismatic friends, and I still have terrors. I received my aversion to the Rosary from Rosary-praying bullies I fell afoul of at another church, once upon a time, and I still don’t pray the Rosary. I received my fear and mistrust of Franciscans from a certain emotionally abusive Franciscan priest, and it’s not the worst I’ve been through at the hands of priests. And my experience is nothing compared to the stories we’ve heard this week. I had it easy.

Can you imagine being physically or sexually abused by hands consecrated to consecrate the Holy Eucharist? Many people have. I don’t think the rest of us can begin to imagine that agony. And if you like to attack people who are struggling, I don’t want to imagine what you’d have to say to someone crushed under such an impossible cross. If you like to gossip in public about who has and hasn’t left the Church, think about the depth of the wounds you might be poking– not those of annoyances like me, but people in far more pain.

To say that these things are somehow not part of the experience of being a Catholic is nonsense. We’re Catholic because of Christ, yes, but Christ comes through people. When people who claim to bring us Christ bring us the pit of hell instead, their victims are not the ones to blame when Christ ends up looking like Satan.

In any case, I went to Mass.

I do not think I’m better than people who did not go to Mass, but I went to Mass.

Since we are one in Christ, I offered my sulky presence there for anyone who couldn’t bring themselves to go.

I received Communion, and offered it as a prayer for my brothers and sisters who couldn’t bring themselves to receive Communion, because of abuse.

If that’s you– I received for you.

Grumpily, but I received.

I didn’t leave the Church– well, not spiritually. I eventually walked out of the church and went home. I’m sitting at home now.

Spiritually, though, I’m still there.

It has been a hell of a week.

(image via Pixabay) 

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