My belated response to Melinda Henneberger

Melinda Henneberger wrote and published a column in the National Catholic Reporter back in December 5, 2018 on her reasons for leaving the Catholic Church. She (and many of us) felt a crisis of conscious over the McGarrick revelations and the unfolding knowledge of our church’s continuing sex abuse scandal and coverup.

I shared her pain and her anger and frustration, as so many of us Catholics did, upon hearing the unwelcome news. I wrote this response at the time, mostly for my own healing. I share it here in the hope that it touches other hearts that have been broken by this terrible tragedy.

Dear Melinda,

First and foremost, I want to tell you how grateful I am for your column in NCR. I’ve been avoiding organizing my own thoughts, even as I’ve known I would have to do so eventually. Your column provided a helpful catalyst.

My heart hurt for you, as it does for all of us, as I read your piece. Our hearts have been shattered by this evil…most especially for the first order victims and their families. Their pain is paramount. But, all of us who love the church are experiencing our own personal crises.

I’ve recently been trying to understand and live better our church’s teaching on how to be blessed by the pain and challenges given to each of us. To somehow recognize and be blessed more deeply by His grace that attends painful times.

So, it was in this frame of mind that I prayed for you and for our church this morning. I asked God how my heart should respond to your decision to leave. Is it a signal for all of us to fragment? To exercise Rod Dreher’sBenedict Option”?

If not, how best do I respond? To the obvious corruption that has so gripped our beautiful teachings? To my own confusion and distress? How can I possibly be blessed by the knowledge of this terrible travesty that too many of our church fathers have allowed or enabled … or worse?

And, as I felt emotion well up inside me, I saw Our Lord in Gethsemane as Christ shed His tears of blood. I heard as His words from Sermon on the Mount rang out:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And I looked on at Calvary as He hung in pain on the cross. I heard Him tell Dismis, the good thief, “you will be with me today in heaven.

Then He gave His beloved disciple and all of us into HIs mother’s care to wait for Him until His return. Mother Mary will comfort each of us, if we allow her to embrace us.

For my own part, as a sinner who wandered and wondered for far too many years before finding the Catholic Church, before being allowed to join in the joyful celebration feast, before being fed and formed by the church’s teaching, before experiencing the warmth and abundance of our Blessed Mother’s embrace, before knowing how or even why I should want to walk with our Lord as He lived and died for us and for our salvation, I have opted to continue to receive and be fed by the Holy Eucharist and, as often as I can, to sit with our Lord in adoration and to pray our Holy Mother’s Rosary .

Is He really present in the host as Catholic teaching says? Can He only be present through the word and exhortation of priests ordained in apostolic succession from Peter? I was told once, ‘It’s a Mystery. We have to leave room for the mystery.’ So, is it true? I don’t know….mysteries, by definition, mysterious. But I do have faith. I believe based on my own personal experience and based on knowledge from the Holy Spirit within me, and my belief comforts me.

I’ve opted to stay — where else can we go, Lord? — and to wait (as much as possible) in joy-filled anticipation of His beautiful face. I know He will come one day and sort us all out. He will cleanse and purify, again and again, each of us and His Church Bride on Earth.

In the meantime I give thanks that you and I and other believers have already been given the end of the story. We know that the sweet incense that fills our beautiful sanctuaries throughout the world will not be overwhelmed by the sin and corruption of Satan’s smoke.

Those priests and bishops will not win, who, through their acts or their inaction, have caused your crisis of communion with the church. Theirs will be a terrible fate.

I pray your mourning for our church blesses you and that you allow Him to walk with you and to comfort you as you wander for a time in the desert. And when it is time, I pray you will again find a comfortable place at His table where we will all rejoice as one church in Christ, where we will all rejoice that we who have gone lost are once again found.

In the meantime I pray He blesses you richly and continuously on your journey.

Yours in Christ,

Mary Adrienne

Meditation 13 – Seeing God in others, seeing good in others

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

I prayed recently that God would help me to see Him in others around me. I don’t know how to do this. And my prayer, while heartfelt, was offered without much real hope of ever ‘getting it’.

And yet, yesterday, I received what I believe is a glimmer of an answer — a clue, at least — of a direction I might follow. What may turn out to be a small miracle in my life.

I reflected on something I’ve known most of my life. It is this:

Those people to whom I have most often been sympathetically drawn seem more ‘worldly,’ an apt word that seems to capture ‘the look.’

It’s in their eyes. The look that says, “I know what you’re thinking.” “I’ve been around the block a few times, too.” “This isn’t my first rodeo.” “We have stuff in common, you and I.”

This insight, thought, realization, revelation – I’m not sure what to call it – occurred to me for just the briefest of moments. The significance of ‘the look’ flashed at my consciousness and then, darted off, to hide in my memory. It peaked out a couple of times from behind a long list of errands and interactions, reminding me that it was important, still there, waiting.

But, it’s only by God’s abundant grace have I been able to capture it finally onto paper (well virtual paper, anyway) where I can give it my full attention.

As I describe the experience here, it’s like seeing a bit of trace gold out of the corner of my eye, then slowly following a trail of little gold nuggets to reveal the mother lode, as it were, of the real message.

These other worldly people – seemingly clever, knowing, attractive – can (wittingly or unwittingly) be some of Satan’s most difficult pawns, sent to tempt us and lure us to a life serving him.

To be sure, even the most-worldly individuals are not necessarily bad or evil. Some may have mastered their knowingness, integrating it with a life of faith and service, as I hope I can do someday.

But, Satan works through our perceptions of others’ worldliness to appeal to our own weaknesses. He perceives those disordered desires and then tempts us with promises of outcomes tailor-made for each of us.

In the end it’s our own perspectives that need to change.

I must no longer allow myself to associate what I perceive to be their worldliness with something attractive. This reaction in me needs instead to put me on my guard, raise red flags, signaling for me to don my armor, prepare my defenses. It needs to trigger in me an internal risk assessment of whether to stay and engage in a holy battle or to walk away – either literally or figuratively – at my first opportunity.

[So, WOW…I don’t know about you, but I need to take just a moment to give thanks for this — to give thanks to God for His goodness and direction and His willingness to communicate with me…to answer my prayers…a small miracle in a way. For everything about this insight feels right.  Thank You, Father.]

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Let’s read again the meditation for today:

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

What about those others – those companions, maybe – who annoy us? Those who call us to account, possibly? Or those little or wretched ones who beg for our time or our help or our attention? What about those faithful ones whom Our Father has placed on our path to remind us to walk with Him?

Do their “looks” cause us to avert our eyes in guilt or shame or impatience? Under their gaze do we begin to sense our unworthiness? If we’re truly fortunate, does the light of their spirit illumine the poverty of our own?

In drafting a title for this post, I wrote the words “seeing God in others.” I was quickly moved to the additional phrase, “seeing good in others.”

It made me think about the added “o” in good.

In order to see God in others, we must first have a spirit that appreciates and is attracted to good in others.

And to do this we need to bring to God the extra “o” — a null, a void – the clean slate of our divine selves. Ignatian spirituality describes poverty of spirit as

an emptying of self so that God can fill us with life and love.

As we empty ourselves of our attachments and worldly desires – of those dark ties that will bind and entangle us and cause us to stumble — as we become empty vessels before God, we may then be filled with His goodness. As we grow and become filled with His love, we will in turn be able to recognize and be attracted to His good in all those others about us.

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Gracious, glorious Lord. You have once again fulfilled Your promise to answer my prayers and give me those things, which You know will bring me closer to You.

I prayed this prayer without hope of an answer. For this I ask Your forgiveness.

But I prayed in earnest and You answered with clarity.

You are an awesome Lord and I am humbled.

Meditation 5 – Pray for us

Have you no plans to interest you? Tell Me all about them. Do they concern your vocation? What do you think of? What would you like? Are you planning some pleasure for your mother, for your family, for your guardian? What do you wish to do for them?

This fifth mediation before the blessed Sacrament made me oddly uncomfortable. Do I have plans about which I’m concerned? Some event I’m planning for family?

I found I didn’t want to think about it. I moved instead to clean some dishes left over from an earlier dinner with friends and put them away. I noticed the silver probably needed to be cleaned and polished it before the next weekend’s company. I fixed myself a cup of coffee and began reading others’ blog postings, hoping for some inspiration. I re-read the meditation once or twice and began a couple of sentences about something that seemed mostly unrelated.

And then it struck me.

Well, yes, I do have an upcoming event that concerns me…that dinner party next weekend. And no, I have not yet asked for God to take my apprehensions into His care. In one part of my mind I uncharitably figure God’s to blame for getting me into this situation to begin with. (Editor Angel – Oh, dear!)

A bit of back story will probably help. Even as I write, I can feel my own resistance to the whole subject. How to describe this? (Editor Angel – Stop this procrastinating, Just write; edit later!)

My husband and I have been estranged for several years from his brother. There wasn’t anything in particular that prompted the estrangement — no triggering argument or incident. Just years of this sort of competition of wills.

Just one example: An atheist, my brother-in-law nonetheless always participated in our family Christmas and Easter gatherings, especially after their father passed and their mother was most-often with us for the holidays.

For several Christmases he would decorate the tops of his gifts to us and our children with little rubber ducks. Potentially cute, but instead of the yellow, smiling duckies that we all remember fondly from our childhood, his rubber duckies would be red and black, sporting a devious smile and devil horns. Better yet, they came in varying sizes, so my pre-teen daughter at the time could make little families out of them.

Whoopee! I had a choice of being a wet blanket or acquiescing in a pretty aggressive, but non-verbal tug-of-war in my own home.

The duckies quietly disappeared.

After their mother passed a few years ago, it just didn’t seem we had enough in common to bother getting together with him and his partner. It was a relief for me, actually, to be able to forgo gatherings, where I would have to work to avoid being pulled down by the undercurrent of tension that always seemed to threaten.

So, I guess my resistance is laced with equal parts guilt and simmering righteous indignation. Even I can detect the not-so-latent hostility I’m still carrying around.

As I have been called over the last year to a different level of commitment to Christ, though, I have felt a need, if not yet a desire, to make more of an effort. One minister I heard preach years ago said God has given certain of our family members to us as sandpaper gifts; they’re there to help smooth our rough edges. Still, I don’t know if a real relationship is possible or even a good idea.

But, maybe he’s evolved somehow over the last couple of years. Maybe my prayers for him and his partner to be touched by God have found some traction. Or maybe we can enjoy a simple evening just discussing our favorite new recipes, how all the kids are doing, our travel plans for the year, our favorite new books. Safe topics. Non-personal topics. Maybe.

But, is there something further I would pray for if I had real, honest-to-goodness faith that God was a mighty God, capable of any and all things?

I know I can’t give up God in order to satisfy my brother-in-law, so I guess I could pray for Him to take all of us and our relationships into His care and to show us His way. To make us a miracle.

Oddly (maybe), this following prayer was what I wrote at the beginning of this reflection, those words that I earlier didn’t think were related to this topic:

Our God — father, brother, companion — who walks with us, sits next to us, patiently awaiting our attention, who is always available to comfort and guide and protect us, who understands our humanity — hold my hand. Lead me. Steady my steps when I falter. Strengthen my heart when fear and anxiety creep in. Help me to know Your love so fully that I cannot keep it in.

I’d appreciate your prayers for us this week, too, as we all prepare for this upcoming visit. (Editor Angel: There now. Was that so difficult? Well, yes, actually, I feel just a bit naked, all things being equal!)