Sometimes witnessing to the power of the love and mercy of God can be acutely challenging.
At the final night of the parish mission at Sacred Heart parish in Winnetka, Illinois last night, I talked to those gathered about the Eucharist from the standpoint of the eucharistic table as a table of reconciliation. I witnessed personally about the fact that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and that the hardest thing for me to wrap my brain around, when talking about God's reconciling love in the Eucharist, is whether or not I can come to believe that God's love and mercy is so boundless that it is possible that it can be extended to someone who abuses a child. I still struggle with this week in and week out as I go to Mass and to Communion. I often reach the inevitable conclusion that God is God and I am not. And I believe that I cannot limit God's love and mercy in what I construct as a container in my own mind and heart.
It was especially painful last night given the two reports that emerged yesterday; the first being the apparent suicide of Fr. Virgilio Elizondo. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be in such an emotional state that one turns to suicide. I don't know if it was related to an impending trial that involves an accusation of childhood sexual abuse against him. I pray for the repose of his soul.
The second report hit a lot closer to home for me. Three former provincials of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, have had criminal charges filed against them for allegedly moving one of their friars from place to place, even thought they allegedly knew of sexual abuse allegations that had been brought against him. During my time serving in the Diocese of Orlando, I often had dinner with two of these friars and grew to know them and have an appreciation for their ministry to people in the diocese. This news came as such a shock to me, and to so many others in Orlando.
As a man of the Church, each time these stories come to light, there is that part of me, deeply scarred and forever-healing, that stings with pain. Every single person with whom I have spoken who has been abused in any way as a child says that they longed for protection against the abuser, but felt trapped when no protection could be or was afforded them. The thing that hurts the most with these stories is that there were people who were responsible for protecting children and in too many cases, the leaders chose to protect the abuser. I understand that fraternal love warrants an understanding and compassionate heart, but to this end?
I know that as we approached the altar of sacrifice, nourishment, and reconciliation at last night's mission, my heart was aching for all who have been abused in any way. It also ached for those who thought they were doing the right thing in caring for a friar, those who are now ordered to surrender to the authorities. And I even prayed once again that I could be open to not limiting God's love and mercy in my own container. My heart ached for those parishioners who sought God's boundless love and mercy as they approached to venerate the altar.
It's never easy being a Catholic, is it?
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.