Mental flashbacks to 2002 have plagued my brain lately. That was the year, dramatized in the movie "Spotlight," when a series of Boston Globe articles exposed the scandal of the clergy’s sexual abuse of children in the local Catholic Church. In 2002 I worked for the church across the country in California, and just answering the phone in the parish office in the days and weeks and months of that explosive reporting was harrowing. Angry and betrayed people said terrible things, for which there was no defense.
These many years later, we still endure revelations of documented accusations and consequences — or the lack thereof — involving clergy members and the harm done to their victims, children and adults, males and females. And there is still no defense. Pope Francis recently called the world’s bishops to a Vatican summit to address this ongoing crisis in the church, to find ways to end the grinding cycle of criminal abuse and subsequent cover-up, but seemingly nothing proactive came of that meeting. A future task force is not what we were hoping for.
Now it’s Lent again, a time of repentance and rebirth, both of which this church of ours sorely needs. Both of which do not seem forthcoming.
And I just feel tired.
These truly horrible scandals are the work of the human church, the hierarchical church, but they affect the whole church, the people of God. We’re all tired. Friends and family members have left the church, no longer able to abide the bad actors. The church’s reputation is in tatters, shredded by each new publication of a shameful history of abuse and cover-up in yet another diocese. With scattered exceptions, members of the clergy don’t seem to understand the anger and desolation of the laypeople. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Holy Spirit were also exhausted, what with trying to blow the gentle winds of renewal through the unyielding wall of the defenders of the structural church.
I sense only fatigue in the wind right now.
During Lent we read in the Gospels about Jesus’ time in the desert. Just after Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit led him to the desert, where he ate nothing for 40 days and nights and was tempted by the devil himself. Jesus must have been awfully tired from all that. Perhaps right now we are in the desert, too, at least metaphorically. I know I am. I am stumbling on tumbleweeds in a vast baked and bleak expanse. I am in a dry spell.
My soul feels parched. I know there is water in the well, but it seems like a lot of work to get to it. I am drifting through a lethargic Lent. A sentiment I spotted online recently was something like, “For Lent, I’m giving up.” Those of us in the desert can relate.
With effort, I remind myself that it’s easy to lose sight of the things that don’t get any press. For example, there is so much good that is done by so many unsung holy people of the church. There are those who truly go about doing God’s work every day among us, who feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and care for the sick and visit the imprisoned and fight for justice. I am in awe of the faithful folks who keep on spreading the works of mercy even in the shadow of scandal and sorrow. I am heartened by their labor. I am inspired by their steadfast commitment to love.
Jesus returns from the desert, Luke tells us, “filled with the power of the Spirit.” (Luke 4:14) He then begins his fateful public ministry. As I reflect on Jesus emerging from that exhausting ordeal, rolling up his holy sleeves, and getting down to work, I see that I too need to focus on the things that I can do, on the things I am called to do. I may be fed up with the church’s hierarchy, and I sure can’t fix anything happening high above my head, but I can find some small measure of water. More importantly, I can give water to the thirsty. It occurs to me that my faith requires nothing less than this.