‘I cannot let my selfishness stand in the way of your whole well-being.”
I was not a page into a series of letters recently shared with me from a birth mother to her son when this sentence jumped off the page. I already knew I was reading something from the depths of unselfishness. This was a mother who knew she couldn’t give her unborn son what he needed, and she made what really is the mother’s ultimate sacrifice. You may correct me and say that giving a life is the ultimate. But how has a birth mother not done that? She continues to live, but with the love of her heart in another’s home. She lives with an ache. She lives as a model of love — giving another what is best for him
“It no longer matters what your father and I want but what we should do so that you have the best opportunities in this life,” she wrote in a letter just one month before her son was born.
I was thinking of these letters in the wake of reading through the Pennsylvania grand-jury report about allegations against Catholic priests in Pennsylvania dioceses. Most of them involved incidents decades ago, but the rot and the leadership crisis continue, even as some dioceses and people with the best of intentions and even rigor believed that the worst scandals involving the harming of innocents and the ruining of lives were behind us. But not all had come to light; not all has surfaced.
I was watching the anger and betrayal and disgust people were feeling after reading the headlines and listening to victims of what is unthinkable to many good people going about their lives trying to provide the best for their families, aiming to be men and women of virtue. I was thinking of them in part because one of the prayers in the Church during some of those first days as the headlines broke included mentions of adoption. Namely:
Almighty ever-living God, whom, taught by the Holy Spirit, we dare to call our Father, bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters, that we may merit to enter into the inheritance which you have promised. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Christians believe themselves to be adopted sons and daughters of God. He’s a good and generous God who gives us so much more than we could ever deserve or earn on our own. Christians believe that this world is not our final destination and that our life in this world is a gift with which to give God glory in loving virtuous service.
This birth mother whose letters I was blessed to read is a Catholic. Again, just before her son was born, she wrote:
I often stop in a chapel dedicated to our Lady of Providence to say a prayer that I will make the right decision concerning this new life that I will soon be bringing into the world. In the front, there is beautiful statue of Mary holding the child Jesus (who is reaching out to her). In the back of the church is a statue of the Pieta. It seems like there is so much contrast between the two. Yet some joy can be found in the suffering that Mary went through. I think of all the suffering that I have gone through, and that which is still to come when I must say goodbye to you. It seems so great.
In another letter after his birth she explains, “I have thought about you every waking moment.
She began her first letter with “My Most Precious Child.”
In the Catholic Church, we call priests “Father.” We believe that a father has devoted his life to God, to be literally another Christ. It’s not Father So-and-So you go to for Confession, it’s Christ who hears it through his ministry. And so, he is expected to gaze into the eyes of the faithful as God would, as those children He so loves. When a child is harmed in the most intimate and heinous ways by a priest, it is an incestuous evil. In the case of the man formally known as Cardinal McCarrick, he allegedly preyed on the first child who was ever baptized by his hand. And that does not even begin to touch on the heinous sacrileges described in the grand jury report.
There are no words that can make that better. There is no reform platform that will heal that. It will take a lot of rigorous sacrifice for love of innocents. The Church is meant to be a loving mother. I cried reading those mother’s letters and sobbed going through the grand-jury report. They chronicle opposite attitudes. Bishops are going to have to adopt the same kind of heroic sacrifice of that birth mother (the kind of woman whose love they should hold in the highest esteem). For the love of God and children. Nothing less — and there are miles to go — will even begin to restore any semblance of trust and credibility.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.