A few months ago, as I was dusting, I picked up one of my most precious things—a bowl that mum had given me. I don’t know how it happened, but it just slipped from my grip, and once it met the slate of the kitchen floor, it shattered. I was devastated. I sat down on the floor amid the pieces and just felt overwhelmed with sadness. How could I have let this happen, I thought. How careless, how stupid, how clumsy—the list went on. Eventually, I swept up the pieces and put them in the bin. And just like that, there was no trace of the bowl. It was gone. I probably expected too much of it really: how can a little bowl be expected to hold the weight of memory?
Along with our joyous memories, all of us carry some heavy memories in our hearts. There is a heaviness that is reshaping the collective Catholic memory at the moment, I suspect. Hardly a day passes without some new revelation about historical institutional sexual abuse and cover-up. It seems relentless. This is a time of reckoning, of resignations and of apologies. It is a bitter time for many, and there are so many questions: How could some church leaders have thought covering up abusive behaviour was an okay strategy? How could the women and men who were looked up to and revered have been capable of such appalling disregard for the humanity of the most vulnerable? How could some of the senior church leaders have treated those who were abused with such disdain and disregard?
For some it is a time of immense sadness and grief. This was not their experience, but they are now left to carry the burden of atoning for the wrongs of the past. And some Catholics, I suspect, just feel powerless and fragile: unsure what to do or say, wondering about what lessons can be learned and thinking about how this shameful past is going to inform the future.
And some mornings, after reading about the latest revelations, I wonder if the weight of this painful time is going to break the spirits of the people of God. Are there going to be too many lost and broken people? How will the people of God rebuild and recover and remain faithful? How will they hold the weight of these shameful memories and continue the work of proclaiming the good news? Because when we use the word ‘church’, we are talking about people—all the baptised in whatever role they may hold in this institution that began with a man who was one with God and whose every action sprang from this relationship.
But then I remember that we are not alone. This church is built upon the shoulders of the generations of God’s people who have gone before us. The prayers of their experience pave the way for ours. The laments of their time offer a language for our cries of ‘How long, O Lord?’ Their strength and courage, their faithfulness in their God, can offer hope for us in our time and space.
And we are not alone because we are an incarnational people and we believe that God is present to us at every moment of our lives—if we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the heart to welcome. And we can fix our eyes on the cross.
At different times in our lives, we all stand in different positions in relation to the cross, I suspect. There are times when we feel we are on the cross with Christ. Times when we are at the foot of the cross, helpless, with compassion-filled hearts. Times when we sit at the tomb, paralysed by grief. And there are times when we meet the risen Lord on the journey. So, wherever we are at the moment, perhaps it helps to take into our hearts that we proclaim a Christ who brings hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind, and who gives words to those who cannot speak. A Christ who looks deeply at the other, goes to the depths of suffering for the other and rises from it to bring new life.
The words of Richard Rohr may help with this: One great idea of the biblical revelation is that God is manifest in the ordinary, in the actual, in the daily, in the now, in the concrete incarnations of life, and not through purity codes and moral achievement contests, which are seldom achieved anyway … We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking … The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality.
So let us bow our heads and bear humbly the grief and shame of this time. Let us invite the Jesus of the resurrection to walk this mystery with us. Because, unlike my little bowl, the weight is not too heavy for him.