Standing in the desert side by side
Although we’re only one week into our Lenten journey, it feels like we’ve been in this desert for months. At least that’s how it feels to me. Last summer’s revelations about Theodore McCarrick—the now-defrocked cardinal who was also my first bishop-boss and the auxiliary bishop who confirmed my sister as I stood by as her sponsor—sparked renewed anger and disillusionment with our Church. What unfolded next, and continues to unfold day after day as new abuses are revealed like dominoes falling in a never-ending downward spiral, has left many of us bereft, wondering how we continue forward when the ground we once walked on with certainty and trust has become roiling quicksand ready to devour us in one fell swoop.
The Lenten desert is real. We can feel the dryness in our lungs when we take a deep breath in our attempts at prayer. We can see withered vines all around us, as we struggle to hang onto the true Vine at the center of it all. How do we get to it, to Him, when time and again the connecting vines pull from their moorings when we grab onto them and take us down another notch into despair? For many of us, this Lenten journey has become our daily lives.
And so, some of us entered this liturgical season with heavy baggage. More cognizant of the many, many people who have suffered at the hands of clerical abuse and the attempts to hide it. More frustrated at the unwillingness of the universal Church to eradicate it and the men who cause it on every level no matter the cost. More furious over what feels like a hijacking of our faith by a criminal element hell-bent on their own twisted agendas over the spiritual well-being of the people—especially the children—they were ordained to shepherd and protect.
Many of us kneel at Mass with these thoughts coursing through our veins. We wish that were not the case, but this is the cross we have been given, a small cross compared with the cross of sexual abuse that others have been forced to shoulder in secret for years, maybe decades. While we may eventually be able to lift off this cross and lay it down, they never will. Their scars are permanent, their crosses welded to the very fabric of their being thanks to the crimes of men using the power and privilege of their collar to take advantage of children and vulnerable adults.
A priest I know—someone who understands how much I am struggling spiritually—asked if there is a way I can have a “Jesus moment,” time with our Lord that is not overshadowed by the problems in our Church. It’s probably a good question for all of us to reflect on during this Lenten season. Where are we meeting Jesus? Can we focus on our relationship with him without getting tangled in the horror stories swirling around us? There’s no easy answer. I think we each have to figure that out on our own because we each are affected by this crisis in different ways, some much more directly and painfully than others.
We stand in the midst of our spiritual desert. If you are finding this desert particularly challenging this year, talk to family and friends who may understand all too well what you’re going through. Pray on it, pray for each other, pray for the survivors who suffer daily, pray for their loved ones who suffer with them.
This season we can allow our time in the spiritual desert to be an opportunity to stand in solidarity with those most affected by the sexual abuse crisis and to join our hearts to theirs in prayer. Like Simon of Cyrene shouldering Jesus’ burden for a brief time on the road to Calvary, we can try to help shoulder the cross for our brothers and sisters who have survived clerical sexual abuse, and together we can walk toward resurrection and new life for ourselves and for our Church.
This column originally appeared in the March 13, 2019, issue of Catholic New York.