Saturday, August 18, 2018

Running into the Burning Building

Shock, horror, amazement, anger, sadness, worry. In the moments and days after the 9/11 attacks, I would use these words to describe my thoughts and feelings; of course, those words were not adequate. Like many of you, I still remember where I was when it happened. Of course, for those of you who are currently in college and younger-- you probably do not remember having such feelings on 9/11 because you were too young or not alive. Yet, you and all of us were effected by it: we live in the age of security checkpoints at airports, ziplock bags in carryons, "God Bless America" in the seventh-inning stretch, an un-ending war in the middle east, and a rise in anti-religious sentiment. This is the post-9/11 world.

A few months after 9/11 came the "Long Lent of 2002." This is when the first bombshell of a series of bombshells fell about how many priests in the Boston Archdiocese had done terrible things to the young and innocent. Catholics would be using the same words I had at 9/11-- and with the same inadequacy. Surprisingly, I remember nothing about that Lent and those bombshells. That may sound odd, but the Internet back then was not what it is today; I did not have a TV; and I was trying desperately not to fail out of WashU. Many college students at this time do not remember Lent 2002.

Of course, like our young who never experienced 9/11 but who know it by its fruits, I would see 2002's effects years later: parish churches' attendance was dropping dramatically; there was disillusionment and increased distrust of clergy along with names calling them what many of them were (and which I will not repeat here because there are little ears present); we would see Protecting God's Children seminars; and a rise in anti-Catholic sentiment.

Since I wasn't anywhere close to being alive in the Church prior to 2002, I figured that these seminars, the names, the anti-catholic sentiment, and so on were normal-- much like those who live in a post 9/11 world consider airport security lines normal.

When I entered the seminary in 2006, I was entering at a time that it was not popular to enter. I didn't really care, however, because I was entering not for popularity but for Him. And after all, I didn't commit those crimes. And I was still the same guy who just weeks before was in a shirt and tie and trusted with teaching high schoolers. Certainly, I thought, people would still see I was the same Anthony whether I wore a collar or a tie. I was naive.

When I told my dad I was entering the seminary and not becoming a doctor, he raised his fist so as to hit me. He had stopped practicing the faith after the scandals of 2002 came out. After the craziness that followed Vatican II, it was his last straw. And the fact that I was becoming a priest in what he saw was a perversion of the Catholic Church-- it was too much for him.

Walking around in my collar in this post-2002 world is life-changing. Many people thanked me for becoming a priest at such a time; but many people looked at me with suspicion and even hatred-- even though I had done nothing wrong. I came to realize that many in this world which preached non-judgmentalism judged me guilty by association; or someone who is cow-towed into silence and cover-up. Some expected me to apologize for criminal priests, not thinking that this would be like asking David Freese to apologize for the 1919 Black Sox. Maybe I'm wrong there.

At any rate, I began to understand why many faithful priests would remove their collars when they went out to eat. And why many parents now worry about sending their boys to seminary.

The effects of 2002 were enough. I prayed I would never have to live through a 2002 as a priest. Just like we pray we never have to live through another 9/11.

But this past week, I found myself hearing about new bombshells, now in Pennsylvania: scandals that are double in size to Boston. And more bishops. And even Cardinals. I found myself saying those same words as I did at 9/11: I am shocked, horrified, amazed, angry, sad, and worried. Hearing parts of the unsealed Grand Jury report have made me sick to my stomach-- and I cannot hear any more of it.

In the past week, I have wanted bishops to resign and I have battled thoughts of vengeance. I have searched for wisdom and for the holy course of action. I have prayed for the victims and for all the innocent. Including those priests that are innocent. And the lay faithful, you, who have to endure these evil times.

The comparison to 9/11 is the best I can come up with right now. The analogy fails, however, in that we are not watching this on TV. We're living it.

That said, I remember the fire-fighters that ran into the Twin Towers on 9/11 and I realize this is what I'm being called to do here. Terrorists-- sadly our own priests-- have bombed the Church and the Church is on fire. And I can either stand there-- amazed, afraid (and both would be normal reactions) or I can be like those heroes and run in there and save her. I prefer that-- even if people say that I'm wasting my life. Because this is what Jesus did.

During the past couple of weeks, Jesus has been telling us how He is going to give us His Body and Blood. I have always wondered why He included His Blood. Why not body and soul? Here's why: Blood is connected to life and to judgment. Here's what that means. When Cain killed Abel, Abel's blood cried out to God and God heard it. When Jesus gives His Blood "of the new and eternal covenant," He is saying that He loves us not just with nice words, but with actions. And this blood proclaims judgment: those who do evil will be judged. Jesus sweat blood in the Garden as He saw all of these sins-- these sins even of His priests-- and His blood proclaims both love (for He went to the Cross anyway and His mercy can forgive all), but for those who refuse mercy and love: judgment.

That said, I am in agony with Jesus over this. And will go to the Cross with Him anyway. This will mean certain things that I as a priest will do in prayer and in penance.

If you wish to join me, if you are looking for what to do, run with me into the burning building:

First, if you are a victim of abuse-- abuse of any kind (sexual, emotional, physical) and by anyone (spouse, teacher, priest, anyone) tell somebody. Report it to the authorities. I know this takes courage, but the truth is not afraid of the light. This needs to be addressed. Only then can healing begin.

Second, if someone attacks your Catholic faith because of these scandals, do not defend what happened. What happened is reprehensible and indefensible. People need to grieve this and vent their anger-- that's one of the stages of grieving.

Third, do not fall for the lie that prayers do nothing. We must both call for bishops to tell the truth and treat this as the crisis it is AND we must pray. If we do not pray, this spiritual war will never end. That said, I am not praying for more policies-- we have plenty of those-- I am praying for action, for the Holy Spirit to pull up this evil by the roots. Eucharistic Adoration, where we pray before Jesus' body and blood, is crucial here. Come to adoration.

Fourth, do not lose hope. When Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus and the apostles kept loving and believing. Our parish and the Church at large continues to do great things: in our schools, in our help with the poor, at our Masses. Remind people about the good and that holiness continues-- just as Paul said: "where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more."

Fifth, know that the Archdiocese of St. Louis has overhauled its seminary since 2002. To gain entry, a man must go through a thorough psychological examination and his every-day activities are observed and evaluated by formators-- which include lay professors and psychologists. In addition, the Archdiocese's child protection practices were evaluated by a member of the FBI and found to be thorough. On my end, knowing that even just one false-accusation can ruin a priest, I am scrupulous when it comes to being with children; I always make sure there is a group and another adult present.

Sixth, when people say this is a reason to get rid of celibacy because men need to engage in physical relations; tell them, no, this is the reason why men need to take control of their physical appetites and master them. Indeed, if a married man wants to remain married, he knows this fact: that when a beautiful, "newer model" comes walking into the office with high heels, that man had better be celibate while she is there. Celibacy is not the issue-- promiscuity and psychological illnesses are (along with the culture that covers up and encourages them).

Seventh and finally: I have sat and talked with God about this homily. He responded with the following words. Please take them to reflection and prayer, too:
Matthew 18:6 "If anyone causes scandal to any of these little ones, it would be better for that man if a millstone were tied around his neck and cast into the sea." 
Romans 12:19: "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord."
Matthew 18:21: "Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'Not seven times, but seventy times seven."

I leave you with a prayer that has given me comfort in these days. It is Psalm 5:
Give ear to my words, O LORD; give heed to my groaning.
Hearken to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to thee do I pray.
O LORD, in the morning thou dost hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for thee, and watch.
For thou art not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with thee.
The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.
Thou destroyest those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.
But I through the abundance of thy steadfast love will enter thy house,
I will worship toward thy holy temple in the fear of thee.
Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of my enemies;
make thy way straight before me.
For there is no truth in their mouth; their heart is destruction,
their throat is an open sepulchre, they flatter with their tongue.
Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against thee.
But let all who take refuge in thee rejoice, let them ever sing for joy;
and do thou defend them, that those who love thy name may exult in thee.
For thou dost bless the righteous, O LORD;
thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. +

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