The Mysterious Leper and the Body of Christ

The Mysterious Leper and the Body of Christ December 11, 2021


Sometimes it’s difficult to write out how I feel.

I know, that’s the most ridiculous thing in the world to say, when I’ve been living on gratuities for writing out how I feel for the past five years. In so far as I’m known at all, I am known for saying snarky things about politics, and whining about how I feel. How I feel is my entire brand.

I wish I had exciting updates to give you on all the things I have been writing about, but everything is going in the way you’d expect.

Rosie and I took the packages you sent down to the Friendship Room, and the Friendship Room was thankful. They asked to snap a picture, where I look hideous as usual and Rosie looks as beautiful as ever. I am so proud of Rosie.

My poly-cystic ovary syndrome was diagnosed a year ago, almost to the day. I’ve been in ketosis and on hormonal medication for twelve months. The disabling fatigue and a great deal of the referred pain that was mistakenly diagnosed as fibromyalgia is nearly in remission now, but I’ll never not be sick.

My menacing neighbor is still dying by inches. Her psychotic episodes have been so predictable you could put them on a spreadsheet, but all she did this month was scream my name once. She barely opens the door for the dogs to use the lawn, twice a day. It’s a relief. It’s such a relief I can’t bring myself to feel horror at what it must be like to be wasting away of terminal cancer all alone, angry and out of your mind.

Beyond that I am depressed and anxious as usual.

We have been driving across the river to Masses in West Virginia, where they require masks so it’s safe. I’m grateful to be able to drive there. Tonight we light the pink candle on our Advent wreath and I’m supposed to be rejoicing, but I’m not joyful and I don’t feel like lighting candles.

I’m very upset about the recent hate for LGBTQ people, which I mentioned earlier this week. It’s frightfully discouraging but not really new or unexpected.

I was expecting to write about the Father Morrier trial this week, if I could. I was bracing myself to go downtown and be a fly on the wall with the real reporters if it was allowed, just as I did at the arraignment. I have been bracing myself to do this for awhile, out of some grim sense that I have to see it done. I’ve got to know how this horror story ends. I want it over with one way or another and I want to see for myself. But the trial was given yet another continuance. Yet again I had braced myself for days and then found out it wasn’t going to happen when I thought.  So I’ll have to wait until February.

When he was my confessor, and I told him about all my innermost thoughts with the most perfect stupid trust, Father used to have me perform an Ignatian meditation. He gave it to me as a penance after confession more than once. He said to imagine that I was the famous Italian leper that Saint Francis found and embraced at the dawn of his conversion. I was to imagine the good parts of myself as Saint Francis and the bad parts of myself as that leper, the healthy embracing the sick. This doesn’t make very much sense to me, now that I think about it. At that time in his life, Saint Francis was a bad person. He himself often remarked what a horrible person he was, before he repented. For all we know, the leper was already a saint, but it took quite some time for Saint Francis to become a saint.

I don’t like to think about Saint Francis embracing that leper anymore, but the thought keeps coming to me. I imagine myself as a leper, which is easy. But when I go to visualize Saint Francis, I think of Father Sam Teisi the sexual predator and Father Mike Scanlan who emotionally and verbally abused students to cover Tiesi’s tracks. I think of the arraignment and Morrier’s cold look, and compare that look to the happier, gentler look on his face in my wedding photo album. I think of the other priests accused of misconduct. I think of the alleged rapes and the cover-ups. That’s who I see when I try to look at Saint Francis in my mind’s eye.  That’s what the Franciscan orders are, to me. They’re the Franciscans I’ve known.

A terrible thought occurred to me recently, and wouldn’t go away: did Saint Francis ever rape anybody? Before his conversion, when he and his friends were drunk and carousing around Assisi with Francis paying for drinks? Did they ever get into a situation like the Big Red Rape Case, and not remember in the morning? That’s something wicked carousing men do, after all, in any era, if there are women present. Surely not, it wasn’t in character for this particular carousing man. He wasn’t aggressive.  But it could be that his friends did and he just didn’t notice. And that sets me thinking again of all of Francis’s sons, and how no one’s seemed to notice what they’ve been up to.

I wish I hadn’t thought of all that.

I wish I could stop thinking of myself as an Italian leper, only not an Italian leper but a woman of Irish heritage with an Italian surname living in Appalachia with a bad neighbor and poly-cystic ovary syndrome. I wish I could stop thinking of myself sitting there somewhere in the countryside outside Assisi, with Franciscans leaning over me wanting to “embrace” me. I wish I could be totally innocent and believe that the world, and my body, and particularly the Church, were uncomplicated and purely good.

Someone on Facebook tried to gaslight my recently It’s always been deeply uncomfortable, living in this position. I don’t know a lot of people like me. I have many friends I respect who have left the Church; some don’t believe in Christ anymore and some do. I’m not better than those people. I have an increasing list of former friends who are cold with me now because I can’t see the Church as pretty and nice anymore and they wish to keep imagining the Church as nice. I don’t know of many people who are in the Church because they are convinced that Christ is real and Christ is love, but don’t like it.

A friend on social media was pestering me the other day, by saying of some abusive Catholics “that’s not the Church! They are not the Church! They claim to be the Church but aren’t!” But she’s wrong. Abusive people are the Church, as least as much as I or any other Catholic is the Church. And unlike my friends and I, abusive people often have the clout of the Church bureaucracy winking at all that they do, which makes it worse. There isn’t some “other” Catholic Church out there which is pristine and sinless and safe, there’s just THIS Church. Us. Us, the Church Triumphant, everyone who has been healed of their spiritual leprosy by Christ and gone to Heaven to be one with Him, along with us, the Church Militant who are mostly horrible and hurt each other until we can’t stand it anymore, along with us, the Church Suffering stuck in the middle somewhere. Us the Hierarchy guilty of so many sins. Us the parishes with their cliques and their social circles and their rivalries. Us the schools and colleges and all that goes on there. Us the saints with their nicely polished hagiographies and the realities that aren’t so simple. Us the parents, abusive and trying not to be. Us the helpless children. Us the carousing people who are beginning to repent and become saints. Us, Christ’s broken and torn apart leprous Body. Us. That’s the Church.

I don’t have any conclusions, nothing to sum these thoughts up and make this essay nice and coherent for you. I wish I did. I’m embarrassed. This is just what I’ve been thinking about lately. I have been thinking about what someone I though was very good told me to think about when I went to him for confession. And I’ve been taking the thought in so many different ways.

It’s the Body of Christ the Church is always repenting and running to embrace. It’s the Body of Christ we hurt when we hurt one another. It’s the Body of Christ we abuse. It’s the Body of Christ we rape, torture and kill. It’s the Body of Christ we blaspheme when we do things Christ wouldn’t do while claiming to still be members of His body. And, at least experientially, from what it seems like here on Earth, the Body of Christ has torn me apart until I am exhausted. I trust, by faith, that I won’t always be exhausted, but I am exhausted today.

That’s all I have for now.


Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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