“When first I knew you, you lifted me up so that I might see that there was something to see, but that I was not yet the man to see it. And you beat back the weakness of my gaze, blazing upon me too strongly, and I was shaken with love and with dread. And I knew that I was far from you in the region of unlikeness, as if I heard your voice from on high: ‘I am the food of grown men: grow and you shall eat me. And you shall not change me into yourself as bodily food, but into me you shall be changed.’” Confessions of St. Augustine
In Ireland Pope Francis invited us to become grown-up men and women of faith, strengthened and changed by the food only God can give us, not only the bread of consolation, but the bread of suffering love. He referred to his letter to the people of God, dated August 20, 2018, where he says, “The wound is an open wound.” The Pope tells us how we can all, at least learn to manage, and begin to heal from these wounds, since we all suffer together in this.
He urges us to become mature adults, by coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way. Acknowledging the truth is not enough. (And we in Ireland know that the dark underbelly of discarded young women and discarded babies and so much more still stings with pain in our midst.) We must all in solidarity take on the pain, reach out an outstretched hand to victims of every type of abuse. And in our own lives we must fight corruption, subtle forms of blindness, deception, slander, egotism. Prayer and penance will help our disposition. And fasting.
He continues in his letter to make a most important point. To fight against sin, we need to band together. No one is saved alone. We belong to a people with a complex fabric of interpersonal relationships, therefore we must experience and acknowledge our sins as a people with penitent openness that can allow us to be renewed from within whenever we return to the source. We must acknowledge and condemn the atrocities committed. And we must fast in a way that purifies us and makes us hunger and thirst for justice. If one person suffers, we all suffer. “We must be love at the heart of the Church” says Therese. Remember Mary standing at the foot of the cross, desolate—praying with us and for us.
God is calling us to be grown up Christians, not unaware of the filth, scandal, and near despair. But we remember that Jesus himself went to hell. He experienced the separation that the foulness of our most heinous sin brings on. Because he wanted to bring us in, every one of us, even the most despicable.
At the closing Mass Pope Francis spoke to his own. He told them, only love can save the world, the love of Christ incarnated in the family. In families and communities, we exercise humble and liberating docility by daily fidelity to the little things. The family of the Church must be a people who resist hard words, who do not fear icy stares nor stormy seas, who do not get crushed by indifference or hostility. Do not fear those who say, “The Church is only…those wicked perverts.”
We, too, can find our Christian teachings difficult. It is hard to forgive. It is challenging to always greet strangers, to face rejection and betrayal. It is hard to admit that the very energy we condemn lives in us. We, too, are abusers who believe we are special, and we are allowed to do forbidden things for whatever preposterous reasons we come up with. We, too, are victims who want to wallow in our mistreatment and gain pity for a wound that will never heal. We, too, are the elite who feel we are above all such despicable behaviours. Yet, we are all one body. When one suffers, we all suffer. We must take on the pain of our brothers and sisters in solidarity. We must be love at the heart of the Church.
Pope Francis asks us contemplatives as well as the rest of the people of God to carry the sins of our Church at this time. To interiorize her open wound. And let it be transformed. We must be love at the heart of the Church. No amount of apologizing or trying to compensate will heal this wound. No amount of reports and investigations will heal it, though such reports and investigations and bringing justice are demanded. We all need to reach out, to help carry it as our own cross, so that the grace of Christ can enter and heal us all as a people. We contemplatives need to play a leading role as we lovingly act interiorly to bear this shame.
“The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation, it is the power of God.” 1Cor.1.18
When the Western world was falling apart, the Irish monks preserved the wisdom of faith, and her missionary saints went to Europe to help bring light and rescue civilization. They depended not on big drama. It was witnessing their persevering acts of fidelity to Christ that planted seeds for a new culture of Europe. In her darkest hours of history Ireland’s Christian disciples found strength and a way to survive and move forward. In Ireland we have already made great progress in bringing these wounds to light. Our bishops have acted as a body to provide safeguards for our children. Since happiness is a paradox and the cross is our logic, as we continue to bear this cross communally, new seeds will sprout with new fruit.
P.S. Since I have one foot in the land of my birth, the U.S.A., I cannot be unaffected by the uproar of the people there at what is happening among their bishops, all the new secrecy and conspiracy and dregs revealed. Surely God is asking us there and here to grow up. To take responsibility. To right wrongs, no matter the cost. And once again to suffer together into deeper love.
With love and blessings for this new season,