Vanilla light ignites in the corner of her room
and she, awake now and poised at her bed’s edge,
studies the bold beacon that hails her
like one unnerved by the beauty of a child
born with one blue eye, one green. [Read more…]
Vanilla light ignites in the corner of her room
and she, awake now and poised at her bed’s edge,
studies the bold beacon that hails her
like one unnerved by the beauty of a child
born with one blue eye, one green. [Read more…]
Guest post by Rachel Sherlock.
Jesus arrived in Jerusalem hailed as a king. Three days later he was crucified as a criminal. It is somewhat comforting that our faith has a precedent for volatility.
Like almost all young Catholics I know, I confess that I approached the World Meeting of Families with a sense of tepid uneasiness. The irony of celebrating Catholic families in an Ireland that had just voted to legislate for wide ranging access to abortion was coupled with an onslaught of bad press from mainstream media not to mention critiques from various Catholic quarters about how the event was run, everything from outrage at some of the selected speakers to online scoffing at the design of vestments. When the woes of the wider church reared their ugly heads, not only did they raise the spectre of past abuses of the church in Ireland, but it directly impacted on the Congress, with Cardinal Wuerl pulling out as keynote speaker amidst accusations of neglecting to stop abuse when it was reported. It was clear, things did not bode well for the World Meeting of Families.
Because of this I distanced myself. Despite being someone very engaged in a variety of Catholic groups and events, I had noticeably taken little initiative to engage with the events for the World Meeting of Families. I had tickets for the final Mass and nothing more. However a last minute request from a friend to help out at a stand at the conference brought me straight into the thick of things. What I found there surprised me, the atmosphere was energizing and uplifting. Young and old alike had come together to engage with and celebrate their faith. With so many reasons to fear for Catholicism today, I found perhaps the last thing I was expecting, a sense of hope and excitement for the church.
But those opening days were held within the confines of the paid and ticketed conference. The weekend saw the World Meeting of Families take to the public stage, and by Sunday’s Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park, the sense of uneasiness had returned.
Bad weather, low turnout, protests, there were plenty of things to take the wind out of our sails (although not out of the blustery Phoenix Park). But the damning blow had been struck the night before with the release of Archbishop Vigano’s letter, detailing the high ranking clerics who knew and covered for the disgraced Cardinal McCarrick, among them he named the pontiff himself. It was dark news to wake up to on that Sunday morning. I am not in a position to determine the necessary response to the letter. Pope Francis has refused to comment on it, however the accusations have been widely deemed credible. All I can speak to is my own experience on hearing the news. I lay in bed intently following the reactions on Twitter, not wanting to get up and start the day, to make a decision on what I should do.
The easiest response would have been simply to turn away. Go to another Mass, any other Mass. My conscience might even tell me that I shouldn’t support someone implicated in crimes that go to the very heart of the Church. I want to be clear that I make no excuses for abuse of any sort or its covering up. The sins that have to be answered for, I want to see them answered for in all justice. I ache for a church that has been cleared out of all these festering depths of sin and complicity. I want to see all criminals held accountable and all victims heard and supported.
But I didn’t stay away from the Papal Mass, I couldn’t. That Sunday was a day Catholics in Ireland were being asked to stand up and be counted, and I was being tempted through shame simply to opt out of that.
I couldn’t have felt less jubilant or celebratory. I did not feel like waving Vatican flags for the pope’s arrival. I wanted to save face, have nothing to do with it all. I was stricken by my genuine desire to stand with victims against abusers, but also by my pride, my wish not to be caught up in all of this. Nevertheless I made the long walk to the Papal Cross in the Phoenix Park, sat in the cold and the rain and tried to pray through my anger. As I did so, I came to reflect on the small but significant sacrifice that Jesus was calling me to. Christ, in his wounded and bleeding self, was asking me to embrace my humiliation.
Being a young Catholic, who openly proclaims their faith, generally brings one into the sphere of apologetics. Having the right quotes and the correct explanations always ready to hand, ready to defend the faith, or spark a question in non-believers. There’s always an onus to be right, even beyond reproach. Walking into a situation where you can be justly criticised for upholding people who may be complicit in awful sins goes against your very core.
There is nothing more I’d rather do that slink away to the shadows, put my faith in a box, and have no one hold me accountable for its affiliates. But I can no more walk away from the Body of Christ than I can from my own body. And so I understood what was being asked of me, I have to cast off my desire to be seen as right, as sensible and to embrace the fact that I am part of a fallen church who has made me look like a naive fool. There have been few times when the Gospel has so thoroughly spoken to the exact moment.
“What about you? Do you want to go away too?… Lord, to whom shall we go.”
The path of following Christ has always been one of humiliation. We are in the company of Mary and John following Jesus through his grueling and shameful hours of his crucifixion. There too Christ was betrayed by those who ought to have loved and served Him. Judas and his betrayal for earthly riches, the Jewish elite and their love of power and the status quo, even Peter who lies about his associate rather than own up to the embarrassment. The Church is full of people who do great harm to Christ and His followers. We do not have the luxury of only being associated with good and upright people. It would be easy to follow people who were always right and good, even if they didn’t match up to the world’s standards. Yet we are still called to follow our limping and broken Saviour, even as he is attacked from within and without.
It might be a strange moment to recount the passage in the Gospels that states ‘Resist not evil’ (Matthew 5:39) given the clear and present need to actively resist the evil that has overtaken many areas of the Church, nevertheless I find myself reflecting on this, and the instruction immediately following it: ‘If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.’
I think perhaps this instruction speaks to our tendency to put as much distance between ourselves and those clear manifestations of evil. Our anger and even our desire for self preservation can lead us to strike out against all things touched by evil, annihilating the good with the bad, or it can tempt us to distance ourselves, blaming others and cutting ties. Instead we need to own up to the fact that evil is real and present around us, affecting us and our brothers and sisters. We need to not resist the fact that this evil is our reality in the Church, and then we need to work swiftly and thoroughly to root it out. I am part of the Church, and so I am culpable just as I am betrayed. I do not get to stand aside and pretend that this grave calamity has nothing to do with me. As the Confiteor reminds me, ‘through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.’
And so in that way I will attempt to ‘resist not evil.’ I will stay, I will work to build up the Church. And when the next scandal breaks, as they always do, I will turn my cheek and continue my work.
I will continue to try to set aside all my sinful tendencies, my pride, my need to be seen as being right, my self image, my dignity. I hope in humilation to find humility, to serve a Church that is filled with much rot and decay, which is scorned by the world, and which is bowed under with division. The Church is glorious, but I do not need it to appear so in order to serve it.
Rachel Sherlock is a writer living and working in Dublin. Rather incredibly she does in fact have a housemate called Watson although they have yet to solve any crimes together. She has a deep love of literature and a background in Viking and Anglo-Saxon Studies.
Italian, Belgium, about 1470 – 1480
In common time, the light reflected
On the babe’s marble head—star-blurred red.
A carnival of the carnal, the rose-blood bloomed
As his tiny body tumbled outside the city
Along with the mother’s severed head.
Martyr of the child dead,
He sits, a baby torso with an old man’s head.
Eyes turned upward, heavenward,
Gripping the palm branch, like the lollipop
My daughter, same age as the saint, requests
Soon as we’re safe inside our home.
I am transfixed by the boy rising
Out of the boiling tub, having met his executioner,
Having refused, a child’s natural willfulness,
To worship the idols the king.
Surrounding him, royal portraits on the walls
Sing a circumscribing hymn—beseeching
The residue of sanctity he left behind,
Odor of holy water, oil and incense.
I break out of my maudlin mood
To recognize Cyricus, child-saint,
Martyr for the youth who will not acquiesce
To the horrible powers of adulthood,
Who, in his innocence, preserved Christ’s crown.
Oh impenetrable being carved in stone!
I give myself to you, not to my child alone.
Not pausing as, in early evening,
I pass a stand of spring-white cherry trees,
I set it spinning anyway, a whirligig—
a thing, a dizzy space—inside-outside
my head: such galaxies, sea-runs of old light
seen faster close,
some distant eddies slowing, some
almost stopped, in a parallax enchantment
of grace-filled dance.
And having passed, I say of each
gray branch—gray presence while it lasts
dissolving into night—let it be shadow
of the brightness it holds, let it be
what first I understood: bone of the world
in cold bloom. It is good.
Don Russ is author of Dream Driving (Kennesaw State University Press, 2007) and the chapbooks Adam’s Nap (Billy Goat Press, 2005) and World’s One Heart (The Next Review, 2015). His poem “Girl with Gerbil” was chosen for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2012 after it appeared in The Cincinnati Review.
Guest post by Terence Sweeney.
I was painting a window on the side of the church when they came, a gaggle of boys, probably high schoolers. They knew that here at the church was an empty parking lot and a nearly flat wall. They started throwing the ball against the wall, slapping it back and forth, and arguing about the rules: who was in and who was out? who hit the ball last? who was supposed to hit the ball next? I thought about intervening—I was painting windows damaged, in part, by years of tennis balls ricocheting off them. But on the day after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, my breath was taken from me by the sheer sorrow of seeing them.
I could imagine the scene from not too long ago. Boys playing next to the rectory. The priest steps out of the kitchen and calls to one that he needs help moving a couch in the rectory. Of old, a good kid would have left the game, trudged into the rectory, and moved that couch. It was a world with much good in it. The young should respect their elders, should respond to the summons of a priest to help. But in too many such scenes, more would have happened than moving a couch. A suddenly serious child returns to his peers to play wallball. Does it happen again when the kids come back? Does he ask that they play somewhere else, only to be rebuffed because it is the best wall in the neighborhood. They go back, and padre asks him to move another piece of furniture. He helps again, the other kids call him a kiss-up, and another part of him dies.
What so many in the hierarchy don’t seem to understand is the aching sorrow of what was done to those children and, to a lesser extent, to all of us. They seem unable to understand how hard it is to stay Catholic after 16 years of scandal. They seem unable to understand that they themselves created, or allowed to be a created, a hierarchy of the sorrowful. The victims abused, ignored, and shamed. The whistleblowers silenced. Good priests, embarrassed by their clerics, ashamed though they did no wrong. And all the faithful, who have seen their Church and their faith bludgeoned by an endless array of legal reports, news stories, lawsuits, and callous press releases from our bishops. We too are victims.
The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report is becoming old news in our fast-moving media cycle. But we fear that the story won’t really end. My whole life as a Catholic has been marked by the sometimes slow, sometimes fast, forced disclosure of evil within the Church. My high school graduation Mass was presided over by a bishop implicated in the Boston scandal. A couple months after that long lent of 2001, we were meant to celebrate with a disgraced Bishop who didn’t even have the courtesy to show up on time for our graduation. Since then, in dioceses all over the world, the stories have come out, usually because of brave people who wrenched them out of the hands of bishops and their chancelleries.
As a I look around amongst my peers who were on the fence about being Catholics and see them leave that fence, I realize there are more victims. Those people who can’t imagine being a part of this Church, they too are victims. So too are the unborn in Ireland left behind because, well, who could possibly listen to bishops claiming to defend children.
So why stay? How could someone, in good conscience, stay? At my lowest, I think of the recent Sunday gospel, when the Apostles, the original Christian sinners, told Jesus: “to whom shall we go?” How could I live without the wafer and wine on Sunday? Without those words of absolution administered by priests I can barely look in the eye? I stay because of the words of Jeremiah: “woe to you shepherds.” Our Lord is a God of mercy for victims and justice for perpetrators. I stay because of good priests who, chastened, continue to provide the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation. I stay to support and demand the countless reforms the Church needs. I stay because of the people in the pews who, more resolute than me, won’t leave and whom I can’t leave. I stay for my parish’s Eucharistic ministers, readers, altar servers, ushers, and choir-members. We are the pilgrim people of God and in God is our trust.
At the end of the day, I stay for that young boy, playing wallball. Because Christ is with the victims. Our Church is built on a victim, who was naked and abused on a cross. I still believe, that the Divine Victim carries us, and that He will never leave any victim behind. He will welcome that boy into his Kingdom with his wounded hands. As long as He stays, I’ll stay.
Terence Sweeney is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Villanova University. He is a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales in Philadelphia.
They had divided up the Saturdays of house-hunting, she said, like bath towels. Hers, his, hers, his. Today was his, and Jan was standing on the sidewalk, turned away casually from the house they had come to look at, as if reading the breeze that blew from the harbor and cataloguing the decades-old stained-glass panels that still remained above some front doors. Mac had known she would do this. At least it’s only this one, he imagined her thinking as she crinkled her nose as a stray hair blew across it. She would laugh at him about this house later, he knew, because she loved him. He knew that too and it made his stomach give a lurch that threatened to topple the narrow street, with its rectilinear square-topped rowhomes and parked cars, brick and formstone, pigeons, and an old man walking a waddling terrier: capsize, turtle the whole thing. It was all very new to him, and he supposed the shock would dissipate over time. But a four month engagement and five weeks of marriage still gave him these surreal jolts. How can anyone function like this? he wondered, and he wondered then what would happen if things changed, about how he would handle a lurch in the stomach from something other than happiness, how she would. But that hasn’t happened yet, he told himself again, and concentrated on looking for Kenny, the guy who was selling the house. He would be driving a beige pickup, he said. And right then a small, aged truck rumbled around the corner by the muddy park, driven by a small grayish man with large glasses. [Read more…]
Guest post by A.J. Avila.
I stared at the computer screen. According to Facebook, my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Ann (not her real name), had died at the age of 99.
Former students posted about what a wonderful teacher she had been, what a sweet person she was.
Which she was—to everybody except me.
In about the fourth grade, I began being bullied by some of the other girls in my class.
I couldn’t figure out what had caused this shift in attitude. We were still the same girls as before, weren’t we? Yet, all of a sudden they called me stupid and ugly. Despite my prowess with a basketball, I was always the last chosen for a team—and even then the team captains argued over who had to take me.
Of course my athletic skill had nothing to do with it. It was all about popularity, and it was made abundantly clear that I was at the bottom of the pecking order.
That was difficult enough, but in the eighth grade, Sister Ann joined in the bullying.
I don’t know what it was about me that set Sister off. Maybe I reminded her of someone who had done her wrong in her past. Maybe it was because she’d had my older sister as a student a few years before, and Sis could be quite a handful.
Whatever the reason, she would scream at me, her face red and her body trembling with anger, over something as trivial as a book cover. I could get into trouble for the horrible crime of saying “Excuse me, Sister” when I wanted to ask her a question.
I could not talk to my mother about this. She had already told me the bullying from the other girls was my fault. “You must have done something,” she said. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I had done to invite such animosity.
There was no way I could tell my mother that a teacher, a nun!, was doing this to me. Most likely she wouldn’t believe me, and even if she did, I would get blamed.
So I suffered in silence.
Eventually graduation rolled around, and I was released from the abuse. By that time my self-esteem had dropped to near zero. The pain followed me into adulthood.
It didn’t take much to trigger the anguish and an abundance of tears. Just seeing a photo or hearing a song from that time period could set me off. It wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but about once a year again the tears would flow.
“It was so long ago,” my husband said. “Why can’t you get over it?”
That was a good question. Why couldn’t I? I knew I had to forgive Sister Ann and my other tormentors, so I did. I forgave them again and again. And again. And again. And yet again.
Why did it still hurt so much?
Then one day I discovered a way to let go. I was in pain, wasn’t I? What are you, as a Catholic, supposed to do with your pain?
You’re supposed to offer it up.
And then, like a light bulb brightening over my head, it occurred to me to offer up my pain for the souls of my tormentors.
When you think about it, this is what Jesus did for me on the cross. Those were my sins that scourged His flesh, pounded a crown of thorns into His head, and drove nails into His hands and feet. Yet He offered up his agony for the sake of my soul.
This kind of forgiveness didn’t make my pain stop immediately. But it did diminish it. Every time the anguish returned, I offered up the pain for my abusers. And every time I did that, the pain lessened.
So now, there I was, staring at Facebook. Sister Ann had died.
“My all-time favorite teacher!” one poster gushed.
If anything was going to evoke another crying fit, this was it.
And I did feel pain. But it was just a twinge.
What kind of comment could I leave? “Praying for the repose of her soul,” I typed.
In every Our Father, we recite, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is my fervent prayer that God forgives me any cruelties I’ve inflicted on others the same way I’ve learned to forgive those who inflicted them on me.
A.J. Avila lives in San Bernardino, California and is the author of four Catholic novels: Rain from Heaven, Nearer the Dawn, Amaranth, and Cherish. Cherish is partially based on the method of forgiveness discussed in this post.
The Abbess of Andalusia
By Lorraine V. Murray
TAN Books, 2009
256 pp., $16.95
Knowing Flannery O’Connor’s lifelong resistance to being dubbed “holy,” Lorraine Murray shows great daring in producing what amounts to almost a hagiography of the self-named “Sour Sage of Sugar Creek.” One imagines the resistant scowl growing on the authorial countenance. “I wish to put this to rest at once,” she raps out, as she did once when Robert Lowell, in the throes of a fraught reconversion and on the brink of mental illness, was tearing around Manhattan canonizing Flannery from the rooftops. [Read more…]
Flannery O’Connor describes herself as a Catholic novelist. But what is it about “The Enduring Chill” that makes it a Catholic story? Initially it does not seem to be. After all, there are two Catholic characters in the story, Fr. Vogle and Fr. Finn. However, neither of these priests seem to have a Catholic effect on the central figure of the story, the obnoxious son, Asbury. These priests do not administer sacraments in the story, or even talk about the sacraments; they do not teach any particular Catholic doctrine, although Fr. Finn does speak about general Christian teaching, and, by the way, I maintain he is the Catholic hero of the story. [Read more…]
Robert T. Miller
There are nowadays at least two competing foundational concepts in Catholic moral theology. The first of these is the concept of human dignity, the intrinsic value of the human person, something the human person has simply by virtue of being a person. Because the human person has such intrinsic value, we are morally obligated to respect human nature, both in ourselves and in everyone else, and the content of this obligation is usually explained by saying that we ought to treat the human person always as an end and never merely as a means, especially never as a mere means to our own pleasure. The concept of human dignity appears in the writings of many contemporary Catholic philosophers(1) and theologians,(2) especially the writings of Pope John Paul II,(3) and even in some recent magisterial documents of the Catholic Church.(4) [Read more…]