Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Seeds of Regeneration, Seeds of Hope

By Sr. Kara Davis, Daughter of Charity Under 10 Years Vocation

The media has been flooded with articles, posts, videos, and letters concerning the recent unveiling of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.  First, there was outrage over the news of former Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual misconduct, abuse of power, and promotion within Church hierarchy.  Then there was deep heartbreak and shock with the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, describing heinous crimes of sexual abuse against thousands of children by over 300 Catholic clergy, and the cover-up by Church officials.  Most recently, confusion and questions over “who knew” erupted from the letter issued by former apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Viganò, calling Pope Francis to resign from the papacy. 

It is hard to believe this is real life, and not just a terrible nightmare that will be over in the morning.  I consider myself a glass-half-full kind of person, always trying to find the silver lining, focusing on the positive, and maintaining an optimistic view throughout the most despairing circumstances.  As a Daughter of Charity committed to serving Christ in persons who are poor, sometimes I feel like noticing the ray of hope in a seemingly hopeless situation as my full-time job.  But these days, it is difficult to find the sunshine, as this ferocious storm of scandal and secrets wreaks havoc on the Church I love so dearly and devote myself to as a Catholic Sister.  People have asked me, “So what do you think about all this?”  Well, this reflection is an attempt to articulate the fruits of much prayer and discernment, what has helped me process the emotion, and continue my journey with God rooted in faith and unwavering hope.

The quote from St. Augustine (pictured above) reminds us that seeds of hope come forth from righteous anger and courageous action.  We should be outraged by the disturbing truths surfacing about the Church.  Yet, what fruit do we bear from that anger?  Does it fester and turn sour, or does this beautiful anger lead to action and new life?  During these troubling times, celebrating the Eucharist and meditating with scripture and the saints has helped me transform anger (with sister courage) into hope.  The daily readings at Mass provided wisdom and encouragement in unexpected ways and with impeccable timing.  The lives of the saints (those canonized and not) who responded to the evils plaguing the Church in their time inspired perseverance and a sense of communion.  Sure, I’m still heartbroken and angry, but now able to recognize that God is with us in the struggle.
The Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a Wednesday, my regular day to lector at mass.  Earlier that morning, I read through the first reading to make sure there were no big words I would get up there and butcher.  As I skimmed through the passage from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (34:1-11), I immediately felt a connection between God’s message to the shepherds of Israel, and what I had been holding in my heart over the past couple weeks.  I felt as though Ezekiel had taken the words right out of my mouth, giving voice to the anger, disappointment, and frustration I had buried deep inside me.  Fear and sadness gripped me as I trembled at the thought of sharing these words out loud (remember, I prefer the sunshine and try to avoid hard feelings like this).

As I sat in the pew before mass, the familiar knot creeped into my stomach, my heart sunk into my chest, and a stubborn lump settled in my throat.  I sat there desperately trying to hold the pieces of my brokenness together.  Why do we have this reading on my day to lector?  How am I supposed to proclaim the Word of God when I can barely catch my breath?  I stood at the ambo in front of the assembly, praying for a miracle.  With hands shaking and heart racing, I took a deep breath and began to read:

Thus says the Lord God:  Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!
How dare you, shepherds of the Church who have looked after yourselves!

Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.
Aren’t priests and bishops supposed to serve the People of God, especially those who are most vulnerable among us?  You have silenced survivors, protected predators, and covered up crimes, but the children you have failed to safe-guard.

You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.  You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally… 
You did not empower the victimized, nor hear the hurt, nor acknowledge the injustice.  You did not bring back those marginalized, nor seek those rejected, but you turned a blind eye, quietly and secretly.

…because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:  Thus says the Lord God:  I swear I am coming against these shepherds.  I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves.  I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths.
Because of this, evildoers, remember God’s promise:  I am coming against these false shepherds.  I am claiming my daughters and sons, holding them close to my heart.  My children shall be safe, no longer prey for wild beasts.

For thus says the Lord God:  I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
The goodness of God will look after and tend the Church.  Goodness abounds within and among us, showering seeds of hope.  May this Divine Goodness deliver us from evil, and lead us along the pathway of peace, justice, and fidelity to our call of service.                                      
"Good Shepherd" Artist: St. Louise de Marillac; Retrieved HERE 
My conscious experience of the Catholic Church, and perhaps for other millennials too, has always been shadowed by the association with child sex abuse scandals.  I say conscious experience because I was in sixth grade when the investigation of the Archdiocese of Boston was made public in 2002, and the bishops gathered in Dallas to establish the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  I understood that there were bad priests in the Church who were harming children, so we had classes at school to learn about “safe touches” and physical boundaries, and then what to do if we felt unsafe with an adult.  However, the reality of child sex abuse by clergy was not the only hard lesson I learned in sixth grade. 

Earlier in the school year, on September 11, 2001, I added the word terrorism to my vocabulary.  I was completely shocked that people would fly airplanes into buildings on purpose.  I had trouble accepting that humans were capable of such intentional destruction and harm to other humans (…and then we learned about the Nazi concentration camps in history class).  During that critical “coming of age” time of my life, I lost my childlike innocence and learned that evil was something very real and alive in our world.  I had no clue that philosophers had been writing about the problem of evil for centuries, grappling with the same questions my teenage brain couldn’t understand:  If God is so loving and powerful, why do such bad things happen in the world?  I know, I should have just stuck to listening to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears on my portable CD player.

At thirteen years old, I already understood that the Church was flawed, wounded, and in need of recovery.  Priests and bishops were never presented to me as demi-gods incapable of sin or human error.  I believed most clergy were good, holy men doing their best to live their vocation with fidelity, but I was not naïve to that fact that some clergy were the very opposite and capable of grave evil.  I was blessed with extremely positive experiences of Church throughout my life, while participating in youth ministry as a teenager and getting involved at my Catholic Newman Center in college.  I felt God calling me to serve the Church, and the more I asked God "how," the more I discovered my vocation as a Daughter of Charity.  I have been “Sister Kara” for two years now, and through the ups and downs of initial formation, I have stayed firm in that commitment to the community and the Church.  So now I find myself posed with questions like, “How can you serve such a corrupt Church?  How can you belong to such a dishonest institution?”  My first answer is Jesus, but I respond, “Because Christ has called me.”  But when that doesn’t seem to satisfy the inquirer, I add, “And the Church I serve and belong to is so much more than the worst actions of some of its members.”

If the Church was simply a human institution, then sure, why would I dedicate my life to an organization with an extensive history of child sex abuse and cover-up?  But the Church is so much more than a non-profit charity, NGO, devotional hub, or religious club.  Instituted by Christ, the Church is a living, breathing, at times like this wounded body, comprised of very human humans striving for sainthood.
Dorothy Day had a deep understanding of the role of saints, especially during times of confusion and frustration within the Church.  There were times priests and bishops challenged her way of radically living the Works of Mercy, her stand for social justice, and her position of non-violence and peace activism.  Two quotes from letters responding to friends questioning her affiliation and devotion to the Catholic Church come to mind:

“No matter how corrupt the Church may become, it carries within it the seeds of its own regeneration.  To read the lives of the Saints has always helped me.”  
(Dorothy Day to Karl Meyer, August 3, 1971)

“As a convert, I never expected much of the bishops.  In all history, popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy.  I never expected leadership from them.  It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”  (Dorothy Day to Gordon Zahn, October 29, 1968)

"Vincent de Paul teaches his priests"
Artist: Maurice Denis; Retrieved HERE
Dorothy placed great emphasis on the examples of the saints, and how they responded to challenges and lived in fidelity during great times of trial and persecution, maintaining the fire and keeping the Church alive.  She is critical of clergy, even somewhat dismissive of their role and leadership, but let us remember that many popes, bishops, priests, and abbots are also among the saints.  In the 17th century, Saint Vincent de Paul helped reform priestly formation and establish seminaries in France after the Council of Trent.  In the 14th century, Saint Catherine of Siena urged Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome, thus ending the Avignon papacy.  Look up a Saint who took action when the Church was wounded throughout history.  Is there someone who inspires you and brings you hope in the challenges we face today?

To use a phrase I’ve found in several reflections, saints don’t leave, they lead.  Saints do what is right and stand for what is true, merely because it is right and true.  Saints bear the seeds of hope planted throughout the history of the Church, and will continue to bear the seeds of regeneration in our day.  Together, we the Church -lay, religious, clergy- can nurture the seeds of hope around us, and live in fidelity to our reality as the Body of Christ.

So, who are the saints we need among us as we face the challenges of our day? Courageous men and women dedicated to a wounded Church, willing to be vulnerable and invest in recovery.  They are survivors coming forward to share their stories no longer silenced.  They are true shepherds of the Church welcoming States’ attorneys to review diocesan records.  They are teams of laity and clergy creating new systems and protocols for reporting abuse.  They are the faithful holding all these intentions in prayer with great hope for the future.  Saints are men and women who humbly trust in the Goodness of God, the Divine Goodness that dwells within and among us, and who cooperate with that grace.
"The Great Love of the Good Shepherd"
Artist: Rebecca Brogan; Retrieved HERE

Ever since that morning with the Prophet Ezekiel, daily scripture has offered the glimmer of light I need to face the storm each day.  I am reminded that God is with us in the struggle, just as he was with the saints as they responded to all the storms scattered throughout history.  The wounded hands of the Good Shepherd are holding us closely to the heart of God.  It is from this intimate space that I have discovered the Divine Goodness active and alive in our Church today.  Good versus evil is a theme present throughout salvation history (might I also include Star Wars and Harry Potter?).  Christ, the head of the body, the Church (Col 1:18) the new Adam (1 Cor 15:45) reveals that goodness triumphs over evil, new life is born from death.  So, will we ever overcome the evil that has infiltrated the Church?  Hope tells me YES!  Hope tells me that with daughters Anger and Courage, we the Church, together, can heal this wounded Body of Christ.  The Goodness of God has planted the seeds of our regeneration.  In time, we will reap the fruits of the harvest, but for now, let’s help them grow.

Click HERE to view the Leadership Conference of Women Religious statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy

Click HERE to learn more about Sr. Kara

Click HERE to learn more about the Daughters of Charity

1 comment:

  1. Sr. Kara Davis' blog on the sexual abuse scandal in our Church was honest, wise, and brave. I deeply appreciate her reflection and intend to send it to laity charged with leadership in their parishes. Thank you, Kara, for your audacious words and grounded hope!


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