Tag Archives: guilt

Lamentation

Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young;
I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.
—Ezekiel 16:60–63

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Matthias Grünewald, Lamentation of Christ (detail) / PD-US

This reading from Ezekiel reminds me of a recent video from Fr. Robert Barron, which is definitely worth a watch: Bishop Barron on Ezekiel and the Sex Abuse Crisis. Ezekiel wrote of the corruption within the holy city of Jerusalem and its cleansing through avengers from the North. Today, the “holy city” of the Church has fallen into corruption, and it too needs to be cleansed, to endure the painful siege of repentance. God will not abandon His covenant with us. But if we are to be cleansed, we must allow Him to show us the weight of our sin; we must be willing to feel our shame and sorrow.

It has been sobering to read reports of the horrific abuse that has occurred within the Church and the deep corruption that kept it hidden for years. As American Catholics, we are mourning over these unthinkable crimes and trying to figure out how we can possibly move forward through this mess.

The Gospel reading prior to this spoke of forgiveness, which may seem untimely at the moment. The Gospel asks us to forgive, but often we don’t understand the meaning of true forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for the person who wronged you or brushing it under the rug. That’s not forgiveness; it’s denial. True forgiveness must acknowledge the sin and yet refuse to feed it. A person who forgives renounces any claim toward revenge and resists the tendency to harbor resentment. It is a daily decision, and it is not an easy one. But it is the only way that we can stop the cycle of sin and open our hearts to mercy. A truly forgiving heart is not indifferent to injustice; it is all the more deeply hurt by it, since it refuses to dehumanize either the victim or the perpetrator. It sees the tragedy of an innocent life altered irrevocably; it sees those individuals who used their God-given will for evil. And it resolves to do better.

I am reminded of the story of St. Maria Goretti and her murderer/attempted rapist, Alessandro Serenelli. Now, this is not a typical story—we should not go around assuming that all murderers and rapists will be reformed by our prayers and can be later welcomed into our families. But it is in fact what happened in the case of Alessandro Serenelli, incredible though it may seem. Though Alessandro was bitterly unrepentant for the first few years after Maria’s death, he experienced a profound conversion of heart after experiencing a vision of Maria in which she forgave him. He was moved to weep for his sins for the first time, and he began the process of true repentance. Due to Maria’s miraculous intercession (again, possible only through the grace of God and not by human means), he was completely reformed and eventually became an adopted son of Maria’s mother.

While Alessandro clung to his pride and callously denied his guilt, the seeds of sin and evil continued to fester within him. Only when he realized the depth of his sin and entered into a living purgatory of shame and regret was his heart opened to receive God’s mercy. This step was crucial: acknowledgment of wrongdoing, grief over what has been tainted and destroyed, ownership of one’s sinfulness. Unless we confront the realities of our sins and face our deepest wounds, we will never be able to receive healing. And Alessandro’s revelation of guilt—and thus his pathway to forgiveness—was made possible because of Maria’s purity and steadfast prayer.

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Alvar Cawén, Pietà / PD-US

As faithful Catholics who are shocked, saddened, and heartbroken over the recent scandals within the heart of our Church, we are called to step up and be the solution, to challenge the Church to rise up to her sacred calling. Now is the time for prayer and fasting. We will expect from the Church a higher standard, and we will start by being saints. The purification of the Church will begin with the purification of our own souls, by a deep desire for holiness and purity throughout every aspect of our lives. Jesus and Mary weep alongside us at these crimes. I’ve been encouraged by the discussion among young, faithful Catholics of the many ways in which we can carry this out, and I’ve compiled a list of resources here.

I stay with the Church because her teachings proclaim the dignity of the human person, even as some of those who represent her have trampled upon human dignity through objectification and abuse. I pray that we allow the light of truth to overcome the darkness, so that everything hidden will be exposed to the light. The truth of our own dignity and worth—and indeed that of our children—must prevail against the shadows.

Originally published at Frassati Reflections.

A Secret, an Eulogy, and a Prayer

Here’s a secret: I’m a bad person.

On June 5th I found out my friend Kacie died of a Heroin overdose. She was 23 years old. On June 6th, she would have been 24.

Why does this make me a bad person?

7th Bday 1
This is my 7th birthday party, that’s Kacie in pink on the far left and me in pink on the far right.

When we were in elementary school, Kacie and I were best friends. We had friendship bracelets and everything. We went to each other’s birthday parties. We played together during recess. My Mom recently told me a story about Kacie being scared when her mother was taken to the hospital, and how Kacie called late on a Saturday to ask me to come spend the night at her house so she wouldn’t be alone. At first my Mom said no, but then Kacie’s grandmother called to beg my Mom to let me come, that Kacie needed me. I went. I do not remember this event.

I do remember, vividly, exploring the woods behind Kacie’s house armed with steak knives with the intention of chopping down trees to build a fort (we knew butter knives would be too dull, but we weren’t strong enough to make the steak knives work either, so we didn’t get very far in the fort-building process).

Kacie was a girl I had essentially grown up with. I remember chatting with her about Sailor Moon and boys in 6th grade, arguing about electricity in 5th grade, doing the talent show together in 4th grade (Spice Girls, anyone?), drawing with gel pens on black paper in 3rd grade.

You know something really terrible? I can’t picture Kacie at all in 7th grade. I have a very blurry memory of her at the 8th grade dance. I see her sitting across from me at Poetry Club in 9th grade. Actually, my only memories of Kacie after 9th grade involve poetry club, reading the verses and prose she wrote, sometimes seeing her.

I’ve barely thought about Kacie for ten years. The girl I once shared “Best Friend” bracelets with. On June 5th I found out she died, but her father found her kneeling before her bed—in a pose I cannot help but associate with prayer—her lips blue and her spirit elsewhere on March 12th. I missed her death by over two months. When I learned about Kacie’s death, I posted on my Facebook page a notice of her death (in case other Facebook friends had missed her passing) and the declaration: “I am a bad person,” the Facebook/secular equivalent of “I am a sinner. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

Now don’t get me wrong, people grow up and grow apart and that’s a part of life. Children might be able to maintain 100 good friendships but adults are lucky if they have five. The sin I publicly confessed was that of Ezekiel 33:7-9:

“You, son of man,” (God is speaking to the prophet Ezekiel, who stands in for all Jews/Christians/believers), “I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”

You see, Kacie and I didn’t just grow apart. I chose not to be her friend. In High School, I saw her getting dangerously thin, dying her hair unnatural colors and wearing makeup in a way that clearly said: “I am emo” which was sort of a counter-cultural fashion/music statement but much more a declaration of joining the “wrong sort” of crowd…the people who supported her in addiction and skipping class and treating life like something that should be rebelled against rather than honestly enjoyed. I saw, I knew, but I did nothing to “dissuade Kacie from her way,” I simply turned my back and ignored her. That means God will hold me responsible for her death. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

In truth there are no “wrong sorts” of people, no irrevocably wicked men or women, to borrow Ezekiel’s word. There are sinners. We are all sinners, and when we see someone else sinning*, someone else in trouble, and do nothing, their sin becomes our own.

After I declared “I am a bad person” on Facebook, I got some replies from people worried that I was depressed or mentally unstable, but I assure you I am too little effected by Kacie’s death. Kacie was a friend, someone I knew to be in trouble, and I did nothing. Even fake-black haired with eyeliner tears drawn on her cheek, she was sweet and kind and wrote beautiful poetry. She was a worthy of dignity, a “beautiful Daughter of the King” as one of my holier-than-me friends says.

Usually I don’t like to share–or read–such personal confessions online, but I think God intends my sudden experience of an old sin as a “teachable moment.” When we see others suffering as a result of their own sin, it is our responsibility as Christians to try to dissuade our fellow fallen human beings from their way. If we do not, we too are guilty. Now Kacie’s parents are promoting awareness of drug abuse, trying to change the world for the better in Kacie’s name (http://www.kaciescause.com/) and I am left doing the only thing a failed Christian , a failed daughter of man can do: pray.

Kacie, I will pray for you and with you every day for the rest of my life. Hopefully God will allow me to atone for my sin of ignoring your pain.