Disgraceful. Naming Grace in the Domestic Church normally opens by recounting a family story relating to the Gospel. Week after week, we detect and name grace — God’s redeeming, reconciling, loving, encouraging presence — in our homes. We survey the ordinary and extraordinary events to proclaim God’s wonderful works in our lives. However, this past week’s horrific news of rampant abuse and cover-up in the church reeks of shame and disgrace.
Mary Catherine Hilkert, author of “Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination,” acknowledges dis-grace, the apparent absence of God. Hilkert questions our ability to even “talk of God” when much of humanity’s lived experience contains suffering. “One of the fundamental challenges to any preacher [parent] of the good news of God’s abiding presence is all the evidence to the contrary.” In so many situations when men, women and children suffer, we lament with the psalmist: “Where are you, God?” We hear the words of Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Considering this crisis, we cry out: “Where were you when children needed your protection?” “Where do we find you now?” “How do we move forward?” What do we say of grace — God’s presence — in this disturbing situation? Pope Francis responded: “God weeps for the sexual abuse of children.” Yes, Jesus weeps and suffers with every child, every young man or woman, who suffers from abuse and oppression. God forever remains close to the poor and brokenhearted while calling upon us — the body of Christ — to comfort the afflicted and combat evil and the abuse of power.
We must speak of, and confess, the disgrace of the church, as we failed the most vulnerable. Yes, we failed. We failed to protect. We failed to speak. And we must face this crisis straight on by admitting and repenting of our sins. But we also remember that sin, failure and disgrace do not have the final word.
In the apparent absence of God, Hilkert asserts, “[A] still deeper mystery is revealed in their [preacher/parent] response to that suffering — responses of protest, hope, and sheer endurance.” Faith teaches us that grace — Jesus’ revealing light through the resurrection — will overcome disgrace if we pray, fast, and act.
As a grand/mother, I’m livid. As the mother of a seminarian, I’m disheartened. As a member of the church, I’m disillusioned. As a follower of Christ, I have hope in God’s continued presence in the church. It’s time to summon our leaders and beg the Holy Spirit to guide us to righteousness. As Christians, we must become grace, God’s abiding presence in the world, by mourning for the abuse, advocating for victims, working for reform, restructuring systems, insisting on transparency, and protecting children — at all cost. As Archbishop Jackels wrote, each of us must act “like a watchdog, warning and protecting against people with evil intent.”
Catholics are beyond sick with these reports — the actions were disgraceful. We can’t even begin to compensate for the damage done to each victim — many of whom will never recover. It may take years, perhaps decades, before the church mends. Deflated, some may question Christ’s presence in the church. Yet for many of us, we ask with Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We believe in, and cling to, Jesus Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. Jesus is grace — God’s redeeming presence — in spite of our horrible disgrace. Now, that’s good news.
How will you speak up for justice for the victims?
How will you support our good and holy priests?
Naming Grace in the Domestic Church reflects on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding parents in their vital task as “first preachers” of the good news in the domestic church — the church of the home.