Religion

The Tears of a Grieving Church

A Roman Catholic church in Pittsburg, Pa. (Jason Cohn/Reuters)
We seek healing as evil is exposed.

Do you know the Book of Lamentations? Break it open and you will read:

She weeps incessantly in the night, her cheeks damp with tears. She has no one to comfort her. . . . Her friends have all betrayed her, and become her enemies. [1:2]

Hear how I am groaning; there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies hear of my misery and rejoice over what you have done. . . . Let all their evil come before you and deal with them. . . . My groans are many, my heart is sick. [1:21–22]

Those are just some of the lines from poems expressing the anguish of surviors of the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 b.c., after a long Babylonian siege. These words resonate like nothing else in the wake of a brutal summer of demonic news about men who were supposed to be striving for holiness and not guilty of sacrilege. There are more questions than answers at the moment. Certainly, lamentations are the soundtrack of this time. Groaning, grieving, struggling to see hope. It stings.

And no one is immune. Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York just confessed this:

She’s in assisted living now, almost ninety, still, thank God, in decent shape. She loves her Catholic faith. She has a son a priest, four other children living their faith, handing it on to their kids, her grandkids. She is always eager to talk about the Church to her friends, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

But not on the day last week I talked to her on the phone. “Tim,” she said to me, “I skipped lunch today. I’m ashamed to go to the dining room. I’m so embarrassed to be a Catholic. I don’t know what to say to anybody!”

She’s my mom. Only one of the millions of faithful Catholics who today are ashamed of their clergy and bishops, of their Church.

He’s shaken — and I’ve heard him preach hauntingly about Satan, seeming to reveal some of what he sees in his days. Everybody is shaken — and humiliated, and angry, and disappointed. On CBS a few days ago, a host who was interviewing me shared that her Catholic-school-teacher mother skipped Mass the other day as she tried to process headlines. She’s far from alone.

As I was moving around the city that day, an Uber driver told me how Jesus Christ has saved his life and that the only good that can come from evil in the Church is a cleansing of the Church that will bring more people truly to Christ. “Priests who do evil do not read their Bible.” At a “penance and reform” service at St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village later that evening, the pastor added that priests who did evil did not know Jesus Christ and were not His friends. It was an intensely prayerful hour and a half that included the Lamentations sung — as they are typically during Holy Week services — during hours when the world can seem empty and devoid of meaning like never before. It doesn’t cause despair as long as you know the Resurrection story, but there’s grief and desolation about those hours. We feel deep sorrow for our sins that contributed to the gruesome torture and crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. We feel the pain of separation from God. The heart and mind grapple with doubts: What if Easter Sunday doesn’t come? What if death is the end of the story? What sin strangles and kills?

These are some of the questions in the groans of the people of God right now. And I put it that way because it’s not just Catholics suffering from this news that will continue to unfold and be revealed. Some of the most heartening conversations lately involve ecumenical encounters. People want a healthy Catholic Church, which serves all.

Rather than words, at St. Joseph’s that night, Dominican friars who serve the parish and some from other posts in the city prostrated themselves down the main aisle of the Church, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, what Catholics believe is the Real Presence of God. There was the shame and the sorrow in front of God and man. In his homily just before, the pastor admitted to having had his faith “shaken” and he implored everyone in the Church to “choose a side.” In recent days, as is our typical bad habit, politics has taken center stage in some of the media coverage of the Church. That’s not what the pastor meant. God or evil are the choices. And if it’s God, you’ve got to be all in. Not walking away but loving more and leading the renewal where you are.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God” is the refrain during the singing of the searing Lamentations. That’s the only recourse. The Church isn’t any one person. It belongs to Jesus Christ, and the baptized are called to live the Gospel. And the reform and renewal will benefit from every witness to the reality of God’s grace in the face of evil — mothers, spiritual fathers, TV hosts, Uber drivers, and all.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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