A Challenge for September: Infuse Your Day with Sacramentals


beige candle on beige saucer plate beside polished pebbles near window
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One thing Kristen and I have shared from the beginning of our writing journey has been a deep faith in God, independent of formal religion. I’ve been particularly grateful for that as the latest wave of sex abuse scandals have rocked my church yet again, and it’s increasingly difficult to know how to proceed as an individual and as a family (I discussed that here).

Kristen’s recent piece on blueberries and granite got me thinking more about sacramentals. Sacramentals within the Roman Catholic Church have a pretty strict definition and intent. There are lots of rules (for example, a sacramental is an object or action blessed by a priest, believed to be backed by the prayers of all the faithful, intended to bring the user closer to God, for starters).

That is not what I’m talking about here.

I’d like to challenge you—and myself—to take a look this month at the objects, prayers, and rituals we use in our own lives to bring ourselves closer to God, particularly in light of the fact that some of us are more suspicious than ever of a traditional patriarchal structure. My husband pointed out recently that faith is in God, while trust is in human beings. So if we’ve lost some of that trust, what can we do on our own to uphold our faith?

The words said during Catholic baptisms come to mind here: “Just as Jesus was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.” So how are we living as priests, prophets, and kings (or maybe queens) in our own lives?

I love Kristen’s practice of finding stones to finger in her pocket as she walks, or paying prayerful attention to the plunk of blueberries in a bucket.

I still enjoy saying a good old-fashioned rosary myself. The beads and rhythm are comforting, and I like using one that belonged to my mom or dad. There is connection there. But I also like to hold a stone that a dear friend brought back from Jerusalem, imagining Christ walking by it, kicking up dust. I like lighting a candle before I pen letters to loved ones, focusing on the light, praying for the recipient. I like walking under the moon, knowing that countless saints and sinners alike, in every corner of the globe, through every age, have looked on the exact same glowing face. Talk about being one family.

I offer no rules, and only one suggestion: try to focus on things that draw your attention to the Almighty, rather than drawing your attention to the object or process itself. (It’s easy for ritual to become an end in itself.)

Does this sound a little heretical? I sincerely hope not. That’s not my intent. It’s just a result of a soul still wanting to reach for God while standing in the muck.

Today happens to be my youngest daughter’s Baptism Day anniversary, and she asked if I’d bake her favorite cookies. The smell is wafting to heaven, chocolate incense carrying prayers of gratitude for her own status as priest, prophet, and princess.



Are We Done Here?

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Are We Done Here?

I have spent much of the last week nauseous over the revelations of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report on sexual abuse in several Catholic dioceses. If you have somehow missed the news, the report revealed credible accusations against 300 priests and bishops, detailing either direct abuse or the cover-up of the abuse of over 1,000 children over the course of decades.

You can read the full report here . Warning: the report is detailed. I tried to only scan the appendix of the accused for names, but mixed in with the names are descriptions of their alleged actions. I could read only a little, and it gave me nightmares. Several times over the past week, my husband walked into the room to find me crying and shaking because I’d tried to read more. The things these children suffered are unspeakable, and I have begun praying daily for whatever healing they may be able to experience. They are first and foremost in my mind.

This of course isn’t the first time sexual abuse by Catholic clergy has been made public. I will make a confession here: When the abuse scandal in Boston broke decades ago, I was still able to fool myself into thinking it was a Boston issue. I felt for the victims, I prayed for healing, but it felt isolated. I allowed myself to believe that local conditions had allowed a vein of abuse to fester in an otherwise healthy organism. I can only beg forgiveness from all the victims for being so blind.

The Grand Jury report is only the latest from the last few years. It came on the heels of the scandal involving Cardinal McCarrick, and not long after reports from Chile, Australia, Ireland. It’s clear now that this is an ongoing systemic problem, and what’s worse, it’s been known, documented, and hidden.

The question now for many of us is, are we done here?

The Church, in an effort to save its own reputation, willfully put the youngest and most vulnerable of its flock in danger, in the direct path of its own predators.

While denying the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried, and denying LGBTQ members the ability to marry at all, some of its clerics sexually abused young children and used the fear of God to keep them quiet.

Are we done here?

While telling women they were unfit for ordination, even in the deaconate, its old boys’ club was covering up we-don’t-know-how-many illegitimate children fathered by priests by telling the mothers to abort their babies, a sin that would exclude them from the Eucharist until they confess it to—you guessed it—a priest.

Some laity are calling for the resignation of US Bishops (all bishops in Chile offered resignations after the abuse scandal there as a public act of repentance; the pope only accepted a few of them), while the pope is calling for the laity to pray and fast in an uncharacteristically tone-deaf letter to the faithful (http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2018/08/20/0578/01246.html#ingl).

Are we done here?

This is a painful question for many of us. I can only speak for myself, but I am a cradle Catholic. My Catholic identity has always been a large part of who I am, and the church has been a place I felt I could turn for guidance, reconciliation, and hope. I still believe the Creed we recite at Mass, even as my faith in the leadership of the church has disappeared.  I also still have young children at home. The thought of raising them outside the church, without the sacraments, the community, the tradition and art and music, saddens me. It was a legacy I’d hoped to pass on, deeper and wider than ancestral heritage.

On the other hand, I know my children are watching. The homily on the Feast of the Assumption, the morning after the Grand Jury report was released, centered on the hurt caused by the church countered by the hope and healing we can receive from God. I was relieved and grateful that our pastor addressed the issue head-on (our parish, from what I can see, is vibrant and healthy, led by a priest who is outspokenly sickened and angered by the abuse and its coverup). On the way home I had a brief discussion with my youngest two about priests who had done some very bad things, and about how they should never do something they know is wrong no matter who asks it of them—priest, police, teacher, anyone. When they are older they will understand more of what is happening today, and they will know what I did or didn’t do to keep them safe, and what I did or didn’t do to lead them to God despite it all.

I still don’t know yet if we’re done here. My husband and I continue to grapple, pray, discuss. We did not take the family to Mass this past Sunday—the first time we have ever elected not to go for reasons other than illness or travel. We read the readings together instead (well, my husband did—it was the Bread of Life discourse and I had to hide my face and cry). We will be taking the donation from last Sunday and sending it to SNAP—the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests. More information can be found at www.snapnetwork.org. We will not be sending another dime to the Bishops’ Annual Appeal, ever. For however long it takes us to decide, we will give our weekly donations to local charities usually funded by our parish—we don’t want local outreach to suffer because of the sins of the shepherds.

But that doesn’t settle what we’ll do with and for our children. Bible reading around the dinner table is lovely, but not a substitute for the Eucharist. I’ve been driving around all week with the registration form and check for religious education in my car, unable to bring myself to turn it in (it’s due this Friday). The youngest still turn to us first for answers, and we have none to give.

Suggestions are welcome.

Lord, have mercy.

I just don’t know if we’re done here.