Monday, August 27, 2018

Rodrigues' Rock

It is a new type of event. It can be attested by witnesses as an event of entirely new kind. Indeed, apostolic preaching with all its boldness and passion would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter, coming to them from outside, with something entirely new and unforeseen.—Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Volume II

The notes of our existence are deciphered for us so that we can read them and translate them into life. God’s will flows from God’s being and therefore guides us into the truth of our being, liberating us from self-destruction through falsehood. Because our being comes from God, we are able, despite all of the defilement, to set out on the way to God’s will.
 — Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

It has been really something to be another sinner in the church this summer. The crisis has been shocking and saddening because it is not many sins that have been revealed over and over rather it is one sin: not that bishops and cardinals are corrupt, not that priests have abused those in their care, but that there has been a silent consensus that the raping of children is simply collateral damage of having a church. Yes, we all make mistakes, and we are all sinners, but the church, it seems, has not said: it is unacceptable to harm children while being a leader in the church. They have made various efforts to sideline or silence leaders who have harmed children, but rarely does the mode of correction seem to be: how do we operate with an eye towards ensuring that not one single child is harmed in the making of this Eucharistic community? 

Every society has the downtrodden whose well-being is offered up so that the majority can prosper. The Church could perhaps stand to embark upon some self-reflection upon whom the prudent choice of sacrificial lamb would be. Children, it seems to me, are not that.

There is a quote by Dorothy Day circling the hallowed halls of Catholic twitter, to the effect of: Bishops have always been corrupt, it is the saints who are the leaven of the Church. The ecclesial body offers us the Eucharist, the bread of life, and that’s the only reason I’ve barnacled myself to this disaster of a ship.

I do not think Dorothy Day was envisioning bishops who had sacrificed on the altar of whatever gods they are worshiping the bodily and spiritual well-being of the very children who constitute the church.

I do think that there is a categorical difference between jockeying for worldly power and tolerating the systemic abuse of young people. I don’t think Dorothy would have been as blasé about that particular crime, nor would she disagree that it is chilling to learn that moral authorities have no moral floor. Not to put words into a saint’s mouth, or anything, but I think she would agree with my mother that bishops who commit crimes or abuse seminarians are not to be swept under the rug, but into a jail cell.

The funny thing about being human is that most stones picked up to throw at others can also be launched right back at ourselves. Most of us have injured someone—not in such a criminal manner, not at the expense of our spiritual authority—and how do we make sense of ourselves: are we sinners with any hope of redemption? Will we all eventually be outed as the selfish monsters humans are capable of being? Does the sacrament of reconciliation offered in our churches actually have the power to heal and to transform? Can we really trust this broken, terrible structure that is our church? Yes, the Church is the Eucharist. Yes, the Church is the mystical communion of saints in heaven in the divine life of the trinity, and we are just one subsection. Yes, the Church is you and I. But the point of being Catholic and not something else is that the Church is also the men who are its ruling structure. And we have learned that they are, whatever else they may be, not infallible and probably not to be trusted.

I think of Rodrigues, the young priest hero of Shusaku Endo’s lovely and terrible Silence. He is a priest who has the choice to either apostatize and save the peasants being tortured to death or to stand his ground and condemn them to death. Rodrigues decides to apostatize, to step on the image of Christ’s face, guided by Christ’s voice. He has perhaps saved the peasants in the pit, but has he made a mockery of the faith of all the many secret Christians throughout Japan? Has he shown them, in the end, this faith is mostly fantasy? Did his actions attest that it is better to live in the secure comfort of life than risk death for a hollow pipe dream voice of the divine? Or did he commit an exterior action he did not believe in order to lay down his life for his suffering sheep?

Perhaps both. The point is that making decisions is a dangerous game we will probably always get wrong, and, almost inevitably, our own selfishness and fear will most likely get in the way. As I read Carlo Viganò’s testimony, I think of each of the leaders he lists as this Rodrigues, caught between a rock and a hard place even as they carry the weight of caring for the foundation of billions of faithful. As I read, I think of standing in St. Peter’s square watching Benedict leave, watching Francis walk out onto the balcony, and I wonder if this was Benedict’s choice. If Benedict’s resignation was his Rodrigues-like-attempt to do his best in the horrible circumstances given to him.

And I think of this summer, re-visiting, at the prompting of my boyfriend, Benedict XVI’s gorgeous Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. The dates listed in Viganò’s testimony would indicate that it was in the midst of all these scandals that Benedict began to write his “personal search for the face of the Lord.” And it is a slight-but-not-small consolation that this image of Christ Benedict gives us, luminously written with the stunning clarity of truth,  is created with a full understanding of the brokenness of Christ’s Church. Benedict’s search for the Lord is from his position within the darkness which has infected the heart of his Church. But despite the darkness, we can still seek the face of Christ, defiled by our sins and sorry footsteps.

His books become not just beautiful meditations on who and what Christ is, but perhaps they offer even more than that: perhaps they are a testament of his own faith and cause for hope. Perhaps sin can really be forgiven and healed in Christ. Perhaps we can learn to cease our selfishness and grow to sainthood. Perhaps, even in the midst of a clamor of a crisis which demands a thousand solutions that we are incapable of offering—through either our vincible or invincible ignorance—there is only one thing that is needful. Perhaps, maybe, this God we love is real, and this God loves us, and this love can become something concrete and real upon the earth.

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