Saturday, September 15, 2018



I'm not usually conscious of anniversaries, but one that I always remember with a smile is September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. On that date 24 years ago I landed in Paris to begin an 8-month sabbatical that would take me through 15 countries, and would (not surprisingly) change me forever. I hope that this claim doesn't seem too exaggerated to you, because it is absolutely true. 

Over the years I've become more and more aware of how the Lord took care of me over those months: I never got sick, never got robbed, never had any injuries or accidents, but instead enjoyed new experiences each day. And so, the feast of the Holy Cross is always a time for special thanks to God for the gift of that sabbatical. That's why September 14 is such a happy anniversary, and this year was no different. -- But it was.  

Last night, however, the evening of Sept 14, I found myself, with most of my Benedictine brothers, in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, attending a "Service of Prayer, Remembrance and Hope," recognizing the horrors of sexual abuse by our clergy. I thought the program was just right, a simple, somber mixture of the three elements promised in the title of the service: Prayer, Remembrance and Hope.

The "Prayer" part was humble, honest, punctuated with lots of silence and the singing of simple music.

The "Remembrance" part was difficult, especially when an adult got up and gave an impassioned
A marble angel blushing
account of being sexually molested over and over again by the parish priest, a close friend of his very religious family. He stood in the marble sanctuary of the cathedral, beneath the beautiful Gothic arches, and recounted in tearful detail the horrors he lived through for three years, starting at age twelve. Who would ever have thought that someone would ever be invited to stand in that holy place and speak about such vile things? But he was speaking out, telling truths that none of us wants to hear but which need to be admitted (finally) and remembered. The reality of the suffering was admitted: the speaker referred to two priests by name, and Cardinal Tobin referred specifically to Cardinal McCarrick. 

The "Hope" element was, I thought, introduced very well by Cardinal Tobin, who spoke of the cross as the source of our hope. He spoke of the suffering caused to the victims and to faithful people who have been scandalized by the revelations, and said that healing can ultimately be found only in the shadow of the Cross, the epitome of mysterious, innocent suffering.

The orations and petitions had a penitential flavor, and were mostly for the victims of abuse, and for people whose faith has been shaken by these awful revelations (including the official cover-ups and denials by our hierarchy).

This service, which began and ended in sorrowful silence, put a different slant on my usual anniversary meditations: As I always celebrate that God watched over me so carefully and lovingly during my sabbatical journey, this year I was reminded that this same God watches carefully and lovingly over all of his children and over his church, especially during times of suffering, when we are sharing in a special and mysterious way in the passion of Christ on the Cross.

I wonder what next year's anniversary will feel like?

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