Once again I am exhausted.
The Vatican has finished the four-day summit on sexual abuse with what looks to me like absolutely no plan going forward. I wonder if it accomplished anything at all. I hope my cynicism is proven wrong.
And now we’ve got this Sunday Gospel reading, which is bound to be interpreted in the worst ways in the light of the week’s news:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
My friends and I have been puzzling over how to approach this gospel. It’s one abusers and their enablers like to quote, to tell us we ought to be silent. I wanted to turn away in disgust and let my fellow bloggers do the talking, at first.
But then something struck me.
Do you know what you do when someone slaps you on one cheek, and you turn the other to them?
You face them, and look them in the eye.
Maybe Christ wants us to look our abuser in the eye.
Do you know what you do when you offer your tunic to someone who’s taken your cloak?
You make it apparent that they’ve stolen from you.
Maybe Christ wants us to make their injustices apparent.
Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who persecute you. We can do that. We can take that blessing to the highest housetops. Cry out with a thousand tongues. Pray the mercy of God on the ones who did this to us– the mercy of God, that God will rend the Heavens and come down to stop them from doing it again, to us, or to anyone else.
We are not to judge, and what is judging? It’s pronouncing a person good or evil. So I’ll no longer call a man good just because he wears a clerical collar, and I’ll no longer call anyone a nuisance because they won’t shut up. Instead, I’ll let actions speak for themselves, and I won’t cease to denounce the actions that torment the Body of Christ. I can’t declare that any soul is bound for hell, but I know what actions come from hell and I’ll say so.
We are to love those who hate us, and what is love? Love rejoices in everything good about the beloved and mourns for everything evil. Love desires that the beloved be happy– or at least that they be protected from harm. And the worst harm that could ever befall anyone would be that they should become an abuser, a destroyer, someone who harms what Christ came to bind up and heal. Mourn for them until the Heavens ring with your cry.
This is the challenge that Christ sets before us: to love those who hate us.
And who hates us? Who wants us hurt, broken and silenced?
I have to be painfully honest. For a lot of us, that’s the Church. No, not the deposit of faith. Not the infallible teaching. Not the Sacraments. Not the Apostolic Succession. Not the Church as Christ intends her, freed from all stain in eternity. The church here on earth, a communion of fallen people who are supposed to strengthen one another in love but instead are enabling one another in grave sin. That Church is a mess, and she hates a lot of us. I am not an ecclesiastical sexual abuse victim but I know what happened to me, and I know that many of my readers are bearing far heavier crosses than I ever could. I’m honored that so many of you have reached out privately to tell your stories, and I wish there was more I could do for you.
You have found yourselves wounded in the deepest possible way by representatives of the Church– priests, religious, whole communities and parishes, Catholic schools, Catholic communities, dioceses. You are in pain beyond anything I can express, from those wounds which are in no way your fault. You tried to get justice for yourself and found more abuse. You went over their heads to bishops and the like and that only made it worse for you.
Well-meaning Catholics have tried to minimize that. “Don’t blame Jesus for Judas,” they say, even though you weren’t doing that in the first place. “Don’t blame the Church for a few bad apples. Don’t rely on your own experience to tell you what is true. Believe us instead. We’ll tell you who the Church REALLY is. The Church is actually a hospital for sinners– and don’t you dare point out that the worst sinners seem to be masquerading as surgeons and butchering the Body of Christ. Don’t you dare declare that the prophecy Christ made has come true– that the stewards He put in charge have abused the other servants and sat down to feast and drink while He’s away. Whatever you do, don’t tell the truth.”
I’m not going to ask you to lie like that.
I’m going to tell the truth. What you have experienced is real. The Church, this community of broken and wounded people Christ has gathered to Himself, hates you. Christ loves you with all His Heart, but the people baptized into His Body here on earth have used their free will to hate you and they want you to suffer. I believe the Holy Ghost will protect the Church from teaching error, but the Holy Ghost won’t take away the free will of the people who make up the Church– at the parish level and all the way up, the laity as well as the clergy. The clergy are free to behave as badly as they like, and quite a few of the most powerful are choosing to hate you and call it righteousness. They hate me too, in many ways. There are stories I still don’t dare tell, and maybe I never will. They hate so many of us, so deeply. That’s real.
And we are called to love this Church who hates us, with a relentless love that refuses to help hide her sins.
When the Church on Earth strikes us, we are called to turn the other cheek, and look her in the eye.
When she gropes us under our cloaks, we are called to take our tunics off and show everyone the wounds she inflicted, so that she may repent.
When she demands that we judge and call every man who happened to make it through his seminary studies to ordination holy and blameless, we have to refuse, and rely on their actions to tell us the truth instead.
Christ is asking us to love this abusive mother who has hated us so much. Not with the false, slavish, codependent love that never speaks about injustice, but real love.
This Gospel calls us to find a way to love the Church, and keep loving her as loudly and obnoxiously as we can, until this cancer of abuse and silence is purged from her. We are called to love her in a way that demands her priests behave in accordance with her teaching, no matter how much we would like to give in and be silent.
I’m not saying that’s easy. I’m not even saying we’ll be successful in this life. Maybe we can’t be.
But it’s the only way I can see to go on from here.
(image via Pixabay)