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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

This is the sixth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

‘When You disciplined us, we could barely whisper a prayer.’ (IS 26:16)

‘Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light.’ Pope Benedict

The sexual abuse crisis in the Church brings us to our knees. We do not kneel politely but painfully, a sprawl rather than a pose. On behalf of those felled by the weight of a priest’s perversion, we too stumble and fall. Behold the scandal we share: the Greek word ’skandalon’ means stumbling block, a sizable obstacle in the path of another’s salvation.

Pope Benedict is right. Our ‘skandalon’ has “obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Lent redeems our falling by redirecting it. Lent points us to another stumbling block, the Crucified Christ (1Cor 1:23), who draws us magnetically to Himself amid the suffering and shame of abuse and its cover-up. He invites us to fall forward into Himself, the sole Source that can bear the unbearable. Any momentum toward obliterating the stumbling block of sexual abuse in the Church begins facedown before the Cross. We repent for the disintegration of lives, the shattering of trust, and how abuse mocks the Church and her championing the dignity of each life.

Shame is transformed into substantial good at the Cross. Just as there is a momentum to the evil of abuse, fanning out like fissures from an earthquake, so repentance before the Crucified overcomes evil. Jesus Himself assumes the web of wounds and rouses the darkened Church, preparing her to shine once more. Our resurrection is founded on His justice and mercy. We arise in humbled passion for the integrity of our Church.

Brimming with new life, we must act. Shame’s transformation requires more than mystical transactions. Will we follow Benedict’s call to bear witness with our very lives of a transparent, integrated Church who lives the truths she upholds?

From the beginning of his papacy, Benedict faced a hemorrhaging crisis of abuse. He realized that the dignity of all people, beginning with the education of children, required the transparent integrity of the Church. To him, sexual abuse was more than an isolated problem of priestly perversion; it signaled a disturbing shift in the entire culture toward sexual values that dehumanized others.

‘Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and crude manipulations of sexuality so prevalent today.’ (Address to US Bishops, 2008)

Degradations and manipulations like the priestly abuse of children! More than ever, we need a humbled witness from the top down of sexual integration. What does it mean to live chastely? How do we acquire self-control and pass it on to a generation already exposed to more filth than at any other time in history?

The church must reclaim its beautiful (and bravely counter-cultural) teaching on chastity–beginning with her priests. We must discover together how Jesus and His community help us to actually integrate God’s will for our sexuality into the fabric of our real lives. That means more than preaching another round of conservative sexual ethics; we must also wrestle honestly with our ‘ethos’–our desires and conflicts.

Jesus wants to transform our hearts–our affections, our attitudes, our motives– that we might embody a living morality. Repentance before the Crucified is key. While sexual abuse is the ultimate ‘disintegrator’, Jesus’ redeeming power in our lives always points to integration, toward wholeness. The stench of abusive priests must be overcome by the fragrance of those priests who live chaste lives through the cross and its community. Following their good lead, we too can embody what it means to offer our chaste selves to one another.

We the laity must do our part. As the numbers of priests are declining, we must increase our commitment to transparent service of the Church. We can ensure that our dioceses have solid systems in place for responding quickly and impartially to abuse charges, and especially to the abused. These systems must become normative!

The abuse crisis has struck an inspired blow against clericalism. It has altered her ‘in-house’ mentality, and she is learning to yield substantial control to empowered laity and civil authorities. As with any organizational shift in values and praxis, this will require time and vigilance on the part of all.

Change takes time. Change is taking place. We now have a better grasp of the horror of priestly abuse and how to prevent it than we had 10 years ago. In spite of our problems, the US Church has exemplified candor for the worldwide Church whose abuses are just beginning to be revealed. Their ‘skandalon’ is ours; we have much yet to endure. We can do so through the One who endured all in order to transform our shame into glory.

Abuse has struck us down, but we are not destroyed. (2Cor 4:9) Our dying is not fatal. We see life-signs–the fruit of God’s purifying, disciplining hand. He is judging clericalism, and inspiring a more humble, candid hierarchy; He is weeding out ill-equipped candidates for the priesthood and empowering solid clerics and laity; He is calling the Church to a new integrity in how she embodies her truth.

Merciful discipline. God is having His way with His Bride.

‘The truth must come out; without the truth we will never be set free. We must face the truth of the past; repent it; make good the damage done. And yet we must move forward day by day along the painful path of renewal, knowing that it is only when human misery encounters face-to-face the liberating Mercy of God that our Church will be truly restored and enriched.’ Dublin Archbishop Martin, 2010

‘We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, leading to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.’ John Paul II

‘For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines forth like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.’ (IS 62:1)

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

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The Gaze From The Cross, Part 1

Day 16 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

The Gaze from the Cross, Part 1 ( Please also read Part 2Part 3 and Part 4)

‘I want to live beneath Your divine gaze, for You alone are enough for me. When I am with You, Jesus, I fear nothing, for nothing can do me harm.’ (306)

Christ Crucified is God’s greatest expression of Mercy for us. His death is the Source of our life. During these 40 days, we are asking God to show us His Mercy so that Mercy might alter our perspective on everything. We are thus wise to fix our gaze on the Merciful Cross!

Some of us struggle here. We see the cross and we see only death—God ambushed and vanquished by evil. In that we might feel His solidarity with our defeats and losses but not His sustenance.

To help us, God gave St. Faustina a powerful vision of Himself upon the Cross. She writes: ‘I saw the Lord clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in a gesture of blessing, the other was touching the garment at His breast. From beneath the garment was emanating two large rays, one red [His life-giving blood], the other pale [His waters that cleanse].’ (47)

A key aspect of this vision is Jesus’ strong and steady gaze looking down slightly at the viewer. His eyes hold ours; they convey tenderness and strength in a way that nourishes the soul. Truly this is the gaze of the salient parent, Heaven’s embodiment of Mercy to hungry children everywhere.

And yet one cannot dismiss the intensity of His gaze—the all-seeing Love that exposes in order to extend Mercy. As the beloved says to her lover: ‘Turn Your eyes from me; they overwhelm me,’ (S of S 6: 5) so I struggle to stay present to the gaze of the Crucified. And that is what Jesus told St. Faustina about this vision: ‘My gaze from this image is like My gaze from the Cross.’ (326)

Oh for the grace to gaze unflinchingly in Love’s Merciful face! Surely He delights in our practicing with an imperfect image as we prepare for face-to-face Perfection!

St. Faustina did us a remarkable service in tending to the ‘capture’ of this vision on canvas: what we now have is a pretty good glimpse of the Mercy that flows from the Crucified Christ.

Many believers might struggle with such representation, fearing the idolatry which worships an image and not the Real. Like any good symbol, the Divine Mercy is powerful only to the degree that it points us to the Unseen Reality of Mercy. So we worship Jesus, not its imperfect representation. As St. Faustina herself said: ‘Not in the beauty of the color nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in Jesus’ grace…’ (313)

Christ Crucified is the ultimate conduit of Christ’s Mercy; it distills the essence of what God gave us in Christ to make us His own. The Divine Mercy is but a humble representation of that Mercy. Jesus uses it to help us fix our gaze upon Himself.

In a day when our eyes are distracted, dulled, even defiled by everyday idols, let us fix our gaze on the One who looks upon us with Mercy.

‘O Blood and Water that gushes forth from the heart of the Savior as a Fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You!’ (309)

‘If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.’ (Matt. 6:22)

‘My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only He will release my feet from the snare.’ (Ps. 25:15)

‘Jesus, help us to keep our eyes fixed on Mercy. May Your gaze hold ours. May we look Mercy in the eyes each morning; may Mercy be our last glance at night. Thank You that Your eyes of Mercy ever watch over us. Grant us the grace to return and sustain Your gaze from the Cross. Change us with Your Mercy.’

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote or simply a page number in parenthesis. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com

 

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Reflection 1

Lent prepares us for Easter by leading us to the cross: 40 days, 40 steps to Calvary. It is the downward ascent to God’s mercy.

Lent break ground in us for fresh mercies. It exposes what in us is merciless–stingy, resistant to grace. Lent is the desert in which we in our hunger and thirst are tempted to forsake the Source for pretty poisons.

Lent is the desert in which we can discover the stream that rumbles beneath the valley of death, ready to surface and transform the burning sand into a pool.
(Is. 35:7)

Lent is a severe hope; it points always and only to the God-man agonizing on the cross, forsaken yet certain of the glory-to-come.

Lent asks us to reflect upon the ways that we in our constant scheming to resurrect ourselves might surrender afresh to the Crucified Christ.

Lent asks us to die once more in order to be raised with Him all the more.
In so doing, Lent prepares us for the only hope worth dying for.

Lent is 40 days with Christ in the desert of His fast and His temptation. Filled with life, full of the Spirit, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the place of death, a land of dark spirits which prey upon weak and hungry ones.
(Matt. 4:1-12; Mk 1: 12, 13; Lk 4: 1-13)

Jesus chose the way of weakness and hunger in those 40 days; Lent invites us to do the same. We let go of familiar props and meals in order to rely upon Him alone.

Jesus invites us in to the desert of our own heightened hunger and thirst in order to meet us—to become for us the bread and water of Life. His days in the desert become ours.

We shall discover together how our valleys of death—inside of us, all around us—may actually be better candidates for living water than well-watered gardens.

In these 40 days, I shall be reflecting on our 30 years of ‘Desert Stream’: an extended time with Jesus in the heat of ministry. I hope to convey 40 ways in which His mercy made the burning sand a place of pools.

We shall follow every reflection with a particular plea: that God would have mercy on the USA and use for His glory the current battle for marriage still raging in CA (Court case Perry vs. Schwarzenegger challenging Prop. 8; closing arguments will be made during Lent with Judge Walker’s decision soon to follow).

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Cesaer what is Cesaer’s but we shall prayerfully fight that what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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