Reeling

Yesterday morning I sat in Mass and cried.

I cried for those who were abused by their priests. I cried for those who were not believed, who were hushed, who were too scared to come forward.

I cried for the parents who could not protect their children – the ones who found out too late that they had misplaced their trust, the ones who didn’t know how to help their babies pick up the pieces.

I cried for those who have been, and who will be, pushed away from Christ by this disaster.

I cried as I imagined evil making its way through this mess, spurring men and women to do its bidding: sneaking, touching, hurting, pressing, obscuring, shushing, pretending, lying, demoralizing, denying, dividing, destroying.

I cried for those who cooperated in the evil, for those who still do.

As I walked up to receive the Eucharist under the gaze of Christ crucified, I cried for Mary, whose feast we were celebrating. Mary, who witnessed her own son’s abuse. While the evil one might not have targeted Christ with sexual abuse, he did use humiliation, betrayal, pain, and exhaustion. He used mankind to subject Mary’s beloved son to physical, emotional, even spiritual torture.

I cried for Christ, who bore all that suffering for us two thousand years ago, and who must surely continue to bear it today.

Men who were charged with bearing Christ’s light into the world instead chose the enemy’s darkness. People who should have protected His lambs instead left them vulnerable to wolves.

~~~

Like so many Catholics, I’m reeling from the news of the last few weeks. First (former) Cardinal McCarrick, and now hundreds more in Pennsylvania. Except of course there’s no “first” about it. This is a problem we’ve known about for more than 15 years.

Do I get to reel now if I didn’t back then?

Back then I thought it was awful, but it didn’t seem so overwhelming. It didn’t come with one-thousand detailed pages. It didn’t (to my knowledge) involve people I knew.

Today it feels so incredibly heavy. So pervasive. I’m reading the report (and if you’re a Catholic who wants to be part of the solution, you should consider reading it too). I’m feeling all the horror of the evils I’m learning about. And I’m experiencing a conflicted sort of disgust from knowing a few of the characters involved.

I’m also seeing it with a mother’s eyes.

I read about these victims and I see my own boys and girls in their places. I cannot grasp how anyone could do such horrific damage to a child. My instinct is to want to save these kids, to pull them out of their abusers’ clutches, to spirit them away. I don’t know why our bishops didn’t have the same impulse.

Such evil. Such evil has persisted through all of this.

A few years ago I wrote about the evil I saw in ISIS’s actions and I connected it to the evils we cooperate with in our own everyday lives. I wasn’t thinking about the clerical abuse crisis when I wrote it, but re-reading it now, I might as well have been.

I am stunned to trace the evil in these cases: It is a winding way swirling about the abuser, his victims, the adults who were supposed to protect them, the superiors who should have stopped it all. It continues through each life it touches, causing mental, spiritual, and physical anguish that can last a lifetime. It jumps from those individuals to others around them.

Do I get to reel now if I didn’t back then? I don’t know. Maybe I’m a hypocrite. But I’d rather be wrong in this direction – wrong not to have fully accepted the depth of the problem in the past, but moving to shoulder it now – than to persist in my milder disapproval.

I am sorry for not feeling then as I do now.

I am sorry for wanting the issue to just go away.

I am sorry for treating those who brought it up with anything other than respect.

If you have been personally impacted by the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, please allow me to say I’m sorry – for what you went through, for my own actions and inactions, for the sins and insufficiencies of my Church.

I am so sorry.

 

To listen to an audio recording of this post, please click below:

 

These Walls -- Reeling

Can’t the Answer Just Be That We Mourn?

In the two days since the terrorist attacks in Paris, I’ve seen plenty of expressions of sadness, sympathy, and solidarity for the people of that city on social media. But I’ve also seen a growing number of complaints about those expressions.

“Stop saying you’ll pray.”

“Don’t turn your profile picture red, white, and blue.”

“Where were they when we needed them?”

“Where were you when others were attacked?”

Maybe I’m naïve, but I didn’t see this coming – at least not so soon. Victims of those horrible attacks still wait to be identified, to be claimed, to be buried, and already we’re attacking each other. Why? Why can’t the answer just be that we mourn?

“I pray because I mourn.”

“I show these colors because I mourn.”

“It doesn’t matter where they were; I mourn.”

“Maybe I mourned then, unseen. Maybe I didn’t mourn and I should have. But still, today I mourn.”

I wish we would stop questioning others’ motivations. If there are ever motivations to question, they’re our own: If I say I’m praying, am I actually doing it? If I express solidarity, do I feel it? If I’m riveted by this situation today, will I be paying attention tomorrow? Will I pay attention to the next one? Do I feel that people in some parts of the world are more worthy of my grief than others?

Ask yourself these questions; don’t ask them of others.

If you didn’t read the lengthy Atlantic piece on ISIS months ago, take the time to read it now. It’s not an unquestioned account of the organization and its aims, but I think it makes an important overarching point: ISIS does not operate under the assumptions we’re accustomed to. It does not make the same calculations. It doesn’t seek the kinds of goals we’re used to confronting. It is an organization that is inherently difficult for the West to understand, let alone counter. (Also take the time to read Elizabeth Scalia’s post from a year ago: The West Lacks One Essential Tool to Defeat ISIS.)

All that said, I think we can be reasonably sure that ISIS aims to sow fear, discord, and anger. Why in the world should we help them along by questioning people who are struggling to adequately express their sorrow?

In my own piece on ISIS and evil a year ago, I said:

I’m just trying to call it like it is. When people do such terrible things to one another [i.e. the ISIS attacks against innocent civilians in Iraq], I can’t help but see evil’s mark. I can’t help but envision evil seeping like a deadly, insidious disease from the heart of one man to another. And then another, and another, and another…

Some situations seem ripe for spectacular displays of evil. Evil must find fertile soil, after all, in lands where oppression, poverty, and war have been present for generations. What terrific places to be planting seeds of anger, fear, and hopelessness. What good chances that they’ll grow in individuals’ hearts until they spill over, manifesting themselves in violence and injustice towards others. What likelihood that those fruits will begin the cycle anew.

That’s how I think of the ISIS fighters: as men whose circumstances and life experiences have made them angry and resentful… men who have sought sympathy and camaraderie amongst those who would encourage their indignation… men who feel more powerful and more right the more they work together toward a dramatic goal… men who have so convinced themselves of their righteousness that they view those who are unlike them as less than human… men who start by seeing violence as a necessary tool and end by relishing violence for its own sake. I trace evil’s influence throughout.

But that – that far-away place, in those foreign hearts – is not the only place where evil lurks. Evil would not be content to bear only a few thousand ISIS souls away from God. Evil works on the rest of us too…

Evil tells us that what we have is insufficient, that we will always need more. It encourages us to nourish our anger and resentment. It emphasizes our fears. It helps us divide people into “us” and “them.” It tempts us to seek fleeting satisfactions that harm our bodies and souls. It entices us to take pleasure in media that glamorize violence and disordered relationships. It convinces us that righteous indignation is indeed righteous. It leads us to think we’re alone and unloved.

Evil finds success in such “small” things all the time, all over the world. I can’t help but wonder whether, when evil has become sufficiently emboldened by its quiet successes, perhaps that’s when it taunts us, leers at us, with acts so glaringly evil that we’re stopped short.

We have a role here.  We are part of this story. And we have a say in how we play our part.

Will we respond to terrorism by despairing? By accusing? By stoking self-righteous anger? By questioning the sincerity of those who are supposedly our friends? I don’t think we should.

I think we ought to take people’s expressions of mourning at face value.

I think we ought to pray — for the victims of terrorism in Paris and elsewhere, for those in harm’s way, for those who are tempted to do harm, for each other.

I think we ought to pay attention to events across the world and extend our sympathy to victims of violence wherever they’re found.

I think we ought to act against terrorism and fear and hate and evil however we’re able.

I think we should all feel free, when the situation calls for it, to simply… mourn.

Can't the Answer Just Be That We Mourn

What Matters To Him

This weekend I was laid low by a fever and a few other bothersome symptoms, so today I took myself to the doctor to be checked out. Diagnosis: sinus infection. It’s my standard affliction – all-in-all, not such a big deal.

While I waited for my new insurance information to be processed, I noticed a sign on the counter:

“IF YOU HAVE VISITED AFRICA IN THE LAST THREE WEEKS AND YOU HAVE A FEVER, PLEASE INFORM THE STAFF IMMEDIATELY.”

Ebola. How awful that we – that anyone – should have to be worried about that horrible, alienating disease. I’d thought about Ebola victims over the weekend while in the chilled, achy throes of my fever. How much worse they must feel. How scared they must be. How much they must want to be helped and comforted by those they love.

Heck, I only had a 101 degree fever and I texted “Wah! I want my Mommy!” to that lucky lady.

On the drive home from the doctor’s office, the news program I was listening to also focused on Ebola: this time on the nurse in Dallas who’s been infected and that city’s efforts to keep residents informed and the disease contained. I was thinking on all of it as I walked to my back door.

But then I opened it and my beautiful little four-year-old turned his head to me with a horror-stricken look on his face. Someone had died, surely.

“I don’t get my treeeaaat!”

He had tears running down his face and peanut butter smeared all over his mouth. His hand was stuck in mid-air, holding a spoon full of the stuff. I looked to Brennan for an explanation.

“He was crumbling crackers – he made a huge mess for me to clean up, so he doesn’t get a treat.” (Please know that this is a long-standing issue with this child. Anytime we give him a food that crumbles, he crumbles it. Not in the normal, accidental way that any child is expected to do – no, this guy delights in crumbs; he makes piles of them and pushes them around the table and they go ev.er.y.where. We’re working on it. And part of working on it is, you don’t get treated for good mealtime behavior when you don’t, um, exhibit good mealtime behavior.)

Anyway – Ebola. Here I was, stewing on death and fear and serious, grown-up issues, when I walked into my kitchen and found my little boy, devastated because he wouldn’t be allowed to have dessert.

I couldn’t help but smile. I hid my face while I tried to stop myself from laughing. It was just so beautiful, so delightful. My child was so safe and healthy, so loved, that he felt the loss of a handful of M&M’s as if it were a great tragedy.

What matters to him is being able to eat mediocre milk chocolate in a colorful candy shell. What matters to him is being able to play with his little brother’s new metal airplanes. What matters to him is getting to dump “avalanches” of animal and dinosaur toys onto himself and his brother. What matters to him is giving his father and me the right number of kisses on our cheeks.

These things matter greatly to him, and how I love him for that. He feels deeply. Someday he’ll mourn the wars and diseases of the world, but for now he’s consumed with treats and play and the people he loves.

Once I’d gotten my laughter under control, I walked over to my stricken little boy and held his face in my hands. I whispered some words to him, words meant to comfort but not to undermine his father’s authority. I hugged him and wiped the peanut butter off his face.

How lucky we are.

And how lucky this boy is, to have these be the things that matter to him. (Matter so much that his father’s heart softened and he gave the boy another chance.)

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Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 6)

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I promised myself that I would stick something, even if just a bunch of miscellany, on the blog every Monday morning. I like myself some fresh reading material on Monday mornings, when I’m working to recover from the weekend and gear myself up for the week ahead. I thought perhaps you good people would too.

But more Mondays than not lately, it seems, I’ve written nothing. I blame morning sickness. And boys. But mostly morning sickness. Now that that fog is (hopefully? please?) beginning to lift, I’m trying to get back into it. I’ll start with a couple of updates:

— 1 —

That whole fiery, electrical knives stabbing me in the side of the head thing? In case any of you (maybe as many as two or three?) were wondering, it’s been resolved. I gave in and took myself to the doctor’s on Friday, who diagnosed my usual nemesis: sinus infection. She said that the faulty sinus was probably pressing on a nerve, thus all the burning, shocking, stabbing pain. Three days into my five-day antibiotic, I’m feeling worlds better. What a relief!

— 2 —

I still haven’t read that America piece on the Pope. Maybe this afternoon? After I’m done I’ll have to read a handful of the reactions/explanations, to get a little lay of the land on the controversy. I’ve been holding off on these pieces until I take a look at the original. Which is, I think, a good thing to do. Except that by the time I finally get through it all, I’ll be a good week behind everybody else. Such is how I roll.

— 3 —

My three-year-old had a massive temper tantrum on Sunday – possibly his worst ever. It couldn’t help but make me think of Ana and her girls’ expert tantrum-throwing abilities. (My sympathies, Ana!) But I have to admit that, ugly as it was, I couldn’t help but find some humor in the whole thing. Mostly because of the underlying reason for this tantrum: he did not want to be home.

This kid never wants to be home; every time we’re out somewhere, whether a play date or the doctor’s office, he wants to stay. In fact, he has never once asked to go home. Ever since he was a baby, he has fussed and whined (or worse) as we drive into our neighborhood. He knows the signs: x scenery = almost home. Nooooo!

This Sunday’s tantrum started on our way home from church, when the little guy asked, “Can we get wunch on da way home?” He didn’t like our answer. So we heard variations of “Wunch! I wan wunch out! Not at home! Don’t go home! Picnic wunch! Wunch at park! Paaarrrk! Go back! Not home! Stop! Stop dwiving, Mommy!” (when I wasn’t even the one driving) punctuated with sobs, for our entire twenty minute drive. He grew absolutely desperate as we came up the driveway: “NO! STOP! DON’T! GO BACK!”

We had to wrestle him out of the car seat (he tried to stop us from unbuckling him) and drag him into the house while he tried to throw himself on the ground and/or escape down the driveway. It only got worse when we came inside. He was inconsolable: lots more shouting and sobbing and thrashing around on the floor and trying to get out of the house.

I suppose I’m fortunate in that tantrums have no power over me. I think I see them as something distinct and separate that (so long as no one is getting hurt), I can just ignore. I tend to just zone out and wait for them to end. But I could tell that this one was starting to get to my husband, so I tried to calm my boy down. I held him on my lap and did my sweetest best, but it was no good. I finally had to carry him upstairs and put him in his crib. (Yes, he’s still in a crib. Yes, he’s three. I like to keep them contained as long as possible.)

Anyway, to make a long story less long, I’ll just say that the crib only served to kick his tantrum up a notch. He went wild. I’ve never heard him scream like that: I thought he’d lose his voice. But he also began to tire himself out. So after a while, I was able to bring him downstairs and start feeding him his “wunch” and the tantrum finally, finally broke. Whew.

— 4 —

There were, however, two upshots to the tantrum. First, this:

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They almost looked drugged, don’t they? My mom says it looks like I slipped something in their milk. But on my honor, I swear that it was nothing more than a missed nap on the little one’s part and The Big Tantrum on the big one’s.

— 5 —

But better than that short-break-because-the-boys-fell-asleep-on-the-sofa: we got a dinner invitation out of the tantrum! Woo-hoo! I complained about it on Facebook (of course) and one of my aunts commented something to the effect of: “Don’t make dinner tonight, Julie. Come over here. We’re eating at 5:30.”

Seriously? I complain about a tantrum and a boy who doesn’t want to be home and we get a dinner offer out of it? Yes, please! It was great: lots of yummy food, adult conversation, and lots of space and toys and cousins for my boys to run around with. I love this living-near-family thing. I did not grow up with it, but I feel oh so lucky to have it now. Thanks again, Aunt Barb!

— 6 —

To shift gears quite a bit here, what awful news we got this weekend from around the world, didn’t we? First (and still!) the attack on the mall in Nairobi, Kenya. And then yesterday, the attack on the Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan. At least 60 people have been killed in the former, at least 80 were killed in the latter. Such horror. To suffer a shocking, sustained tragedy on what you thought would be a cheerful Saturday? It’s almost unimaginable. And worse yet, to be targeted in church, while you were worshipping God? It’s a special kind of horrible.

Do you know what I regret at this moment? I regret my reactions to these two terrible events. I normally feel such things acutely; they normally get to me regardless of how far away they seem. But this time, my reaction was muted. I said a few prayers, but mostly, I didn’t want to think about it. I was tired of tragedy. After Egypt and Syria and the anniversaries of September 11 and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, after the Navy Yard shooting last week, after hearing of a few very sad local deaths and incidents, I guess I was just tired of grieving.

I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be numb to sad news and indifferent to others’ suffering. There’s quite a lot I need to work on right now, spiritually. I’ll be adding this one to the list.

Please, join me in praying for those affected by the awful attacks in Kenya and Pakistan.

— 7 —

Have a good week, everyone. I’m hopeful for a brightness, a lifting of my own mood. And I hope to be back in this space a few times in the coming days. ‘Till then, be well.

Fifty Years From Birmingham

This morning as I drove to mass, I heard this segment on NPR. I hadn’t realized beforehand, but today is the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Which killed four little girls. In a church. Sunday, September 15, 1963: The event has always stuck out to me as exceptionally horrible. Layer upon layer of horrible.

I can only barely, a little bit, understand how people could have fought so hard to maintain a system of segregation that is (to my eyes) so obviously unjust. I assume that fear played a role – fear of change, fear of losing power. I think those fears have motivated an awful lot of horrible over the course of human history.

I understand less how people could escalate their resistance to change to the point of undertaking violence. How does one make that leap from using speeches and meetings and rules and laws (however unjust) to causing physical damage to a person or his property? I can only assume that the original seed of fear must have been long overtaken by anger. And I think anger poisons people.

But I don’t understand at all, not in the least, how people could bring violence to a church. How could any person, who has ever possessed even a morsel of faith or morality, bomb a church? On a Sunday morning? On the church’s youth Sunday, when a bunch of little girls were in the bathroom, excitedly preparing themselves to take visible roles in that morning’s church service? No purely human emotion helps me understand that one. Even anger isn’t sufficient.

I can only see evil. I can only surmise that people let evil in when they decided to nuture their fear. That the evil grew with their anger, each feeding the other. And that evil finally made itself obvious in that horrible act. A church. Four innocent children. Preparing to worship God. Evil must have rejoiced.

I cried as I drove to mass this morning, re-learning the story of the four little girls. I cried because I knew it was unjust; I knew it was wrong; I knew how unfair it was to those girls; I knew it must have torn apart their mothers’ hearts; I knew it had impacted so many more people than the victims themselves; and I knew that evil had had a say.

It’s a sobering thought on which to end my Sunday. As I drove to mass this morning, I hoped that my pastor would acknowledge this horrible anniversary. I wanted to feel uplifted. I wanted us to make some effort to remember what happened to those girls, to make a statement that their lives mattered. It didn’t happen. In my little corner of the world, no one seemed to remember.

But I hadn’t remembered either, not before that NPR segment. Which is why I write this post. With it, I’m issuing my own little remembrance. In these last few minutes of Sunday, September 15, 2003, let’s remember what happened exactly fifty years ago in Birmingham. Let’s say a prayer for those who lost their lives. Let’s say another for the family and friends who suffered their loss. And let’s say one more for the many who lost something less tangible that day. Because when evil scored with that horrible act, so much was lost.

A Love That Changes You

I have always loved children. I was one of those girls people call a “Little Mother.” The kind who sit in the shade under a tree with all the strollers, “helping” the babies and their mommies, despite all the fun-looking older kids running around playing tag.

Later I was a prolific babysitter, my weekends full of watching cousins and neighbors and my mom’s friends’ children. I loved all those little kids: the angels and the troublemakers, the lively ones and the meek. (Or rather, I loved almost all of them – we won’t talk about the spoiled 12-year-old who locked me out of her house.)

I especially loved my cousins, and later my nieces: The children whom I loved not because they were cute or sweet (though of course they all were), but truly for their own sake. They were born and with us and part of our family and I loved them. It’s as simple as that.

J holding K, 1992

So it’s not like I entered motherhood as a complete novice in the baby department. I felt prepared for the work involved in caring for a child and I was aware that there would be a tremendous emotional strain to deal with. I also knew that I would feel a love for my own child that would be different from any I had yet experienced.

But I wasn’t prepared for my infant son to teach me something about the whole of humanity. Or for him to give me a humbling, awe-filled glimpse into the heart of God.

B as newborn

So many nights, I sat in the rocker and nursed my baby boy. I studied his perfection: smooth, clear skin; long eyelashes; soft, round cheeks; creases at his wrists and thighs; dimples on his hands; wispy, fair hair; chest moving gently as he breathed his sweet breath; heart thump- thump- thumping in that reassuring way… I could go (and I have gone) on. At any rate, I can provide the images, but I can’t express the depth of the love I felt in those moments.

B Thanksgiving 2010

B outside 2011

The love which, of course, I continue to feel. We just celebrated my son’s third birthday. These days when I kiss my boy’s forehead, I think more on the funny and imaginative things he says; on his hugs for his brother; on his flushed, sweaty face and bright blue eyes when he runs around the playground; on the way he likes to kiss both of my cheeks, like the little French boy he isn’t. And the feeling is the same. Stronger, perhaps.

B summer 2012

A couple of years ago I sat in a different rocking chair, listening to a C-SPAN Booknotes interview with Iris Chang on her book The Rape of Nanking. I won’t describe the horror of the event on which the book is centered; I will only say that I was horrified. More than horrified: I felt a pain that seemed to go straight to my soul.

I sat there rocking my baby as I listened and I had this powerful image in my mind of all those other women who had rocked their babies – the babies who grew to become the victims and perpetrators of this most terrible of crimes. I thought of how I stroked my own son’s skin as I held him, how I smoothed his hair and absorbed the feeling of his weight against me. I treasured my son. I saw him for the precious, important being that he was – a human life and a child of God. Surely, those mothers must have felt the same about their babies. They must have known exactly how precious those lives were.

And yet some of those lives were treated with contempt. They were brushed aside, abused, degraded. I felt like screaming, “Didn’t you know how important those people were?!” Others were degraded by their own actions. Their mothers rocked innocent babies who grew to do grave evil. I can’t imagine that any mother would want such a future for her child.

So it goes on. I hear about atrocities and I think of mothers rocking their babies: The Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the rampage in Afghanistan, the murders in Newtown. I think of the victims, but I think of the perpetrators too. I can’t hate them. I mourn for them and the damage they did to their souls. I mourn for their mothers’ sakes. I mourn even for Kermit Gosnell, who took those most unfortunate of babies: the ones whose mothers did not protect them, did not rock them, did not realize how very precious they were.

But I firmly believe that someone else knew exactly how precious those babies were. I believe that God valued and loved those babies from the moment they were conceived. All of them: those of Nanking, the Holocaust, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Newtown, Gosnell, and so many other tragedies. And us too. We may think that we live normal, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill lives, but I believe that God views each and every one of us as unique and infinitely precious.

When I remember rocking my babies and I ponder the intense, indescribable love I feel for them, I think to myself, “If I love my boys this much, how much more must God love me?” When the answer sinks in, when I get that small glimpse into the heart of God, it just about takes my breath away. I am full of awe and gratitude and a keen awareness of how little I deserve that love. But I also know that I don’t have to deserve it. My boys don’t have to do a thing to earn my love. And there’s nothing they could do to stop me loving them.

I think most mothers would say the same. Through all of history and across all the world, mothers love their babies. They hold them tight and rock them. They treasure them. In them they see individuality and worth and promise. And all the while, God looks over their shoulders. He gazes at each and every one of us with a parent’s love, but greater. He loves and values us when our own parents fail to, when other people make victims of us, and even when we damage our souls with acts of evil.

Feeling that love, letting it all sink in and settle around you as you rock your child on a quiet afternoon, that’s a love that changes you.

Ring Bearer