In my church tomorrow we’ll celebrate the twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time refers to the weeks in the liturgical calendar that are not set apart, no special feasts or seasons such as Advent, Lent, or Easter, no distinct sacrifices or practices. It’s regular, ordinary, normal. Tomorrow, the particular set of readings that is prescribed for this Sunday will be proclaimed in dozens of languages in Catholic churches all over the world. In my church, there will be liturgy, Eucharist, music, fellowship with the best people I know, and doughnuts. And though mass has been part of my Sunday rhythm for literally as long as I’ve been alive, and though I love it for the heartbeat it is to my life, it’s not ordinary, not normal, not okay. Not anymore.
My beloved church is sick and I don’t know what to do about it. She has ingested poison, willingly it seems, and there are infections, and they’re spreading, and no one seems to really know what to do, if anything at all. While some in the church are calling 911, louder voices seem to be waving off ambulances, hoping she will somehow heal herself in the midst of hierarchical silence and the prayers of the people. I don’t know. She had a pretty major illness back at the turn of this century and that’s how we handled it then, and it didn’t work out too well for her, or us.
I hear leaders in our church speaking about how difficult this crisis is on good priests. I hear calls for collective repentance, as though the people in the pews had any part of the executive level decisions that moved and covered for pedophiles, abusers, and criminals. I hear parsing of words on who said what, and when, and what it all means. I hear very little about the lifetime impact of abuse on victims, and even less about the particular kind of evil that manifests itself at the highest levels of a church that professes Jesus but whose actions don’t match up against its words.
In Philadelphia, there was a network of abusive priests who marked their victims with a gold crucifix so others could more easily identify targets. In Boston, a sexting scandal and systemic issues within St. John’s Seminary have led to the forced sabbatical of its rector, a private inquiry, and precious few facts brought to light for the people to digest. Dioceses in states across the country and the world are being asked by authorities to finally open their records of abuse to the public. Reluctance to release these records is in itself an indicator of how pervasive this illness has become. Abuse, cover-up, repeat. It’s a cycle of darkness when what the church requires is light. This patient who so badly needs surgery is being loaded up with blankets, yet again. It’s comfortable, but it’s no cure.
Regular. Normal. Ordinary. As humans, we long for order. We want to make sense of things, bringing order from disorder, but as I look around my church, I see us rushing past the problem just to get back to normal. It’s too fast. I love my faith, and the practice of it. I sing at church, am a part of a retreat community, have taught CCD and VBS. I experience Jesus in the Eucharist, and I cry at most masses I attend. Good priests have impacted my life and the life of my family in ways too numerous to count. I love my faith, but this is no ordinary time. My church is sick, and I feel powerless to help her. Today, I look to God to intervene in ways that might seem harsh and even violent to us who love this church and want Her to be authentically well, good, and holy. Oh Lord, let the light come.
Tomorrow’s first reading, from the book of Isaiah 35:4-7
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.