The Poetry of Evil

I have read and read and read
Posts and articles
Prayers and sermons
I have listened
I have thought
I have prayed – or tried to
I have raged
I have wept

I have watched through the night
Wakeful with unrest
Wakeful with anger
Wakeful with sorrow
Wakeful with a thousand memories
Wakeful with a million fears
Wakeful, perhaps, like a victim

And then I read more
Addicted to the words
Seeking refuge in thoughts

Overwhelmed, I read
Of victims and cover-ups
Of sadism and collusion
Sadly, I read of institutional complicity
And knew it to be true
Searching, I read of needed reform
And knew I agreed
Hopeful, I read Francis’ letter
And knew it to be inadequate

I read of everything
But evil
I thought of everything
But evil
Until I read
“The grace to be open to the gift of poetry”
And then I thought
Of evil
I thought
Of
The anti-grace to be open to the seduction of evil
The poetry of evil

Are we distracted
By words
By reform
By the institutional faults
From the essential evil?

The garden is so overgrown
So in need of pruning
So in need of a new landscape vision
That we cannot see the serpent
Whispering in the gardeners’ ears
Seducing them with the forbidden fruit
Though the juices run red down their faces.

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A Collection of Facebook Posts and Comments

This is an unusual post for me. It is a simple collection of many of my FB posts and comments during this week following the release of the report by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury on sexual abuse and assaults by Catholic clergy and the cover-up by the hierarchy. To say I have been obsessed by this is a bit of an understatement. Many of these posts and comments appeared on a private website of Catholic women. I decided I wanted to collect them for myself and this seemed the best place to do that.
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“The tree is known by its fruit. Those who profess to belong to Christ will be recognized by their actions. However, what matters now is not a mere professing of faith. Now the crucial thing is whether one is found in the power of faith to the end. He who truly possesses the word of Jesus can even hear his silence speak. In this way shall he be perfect: he will act in accordance with his words and will be known even by his silence.” Ignatius of Antioch
Like many of you, I have been preoccupied for a week now by the massive, entrenched evil revealed in the Pennsylvania report of clerical abuse and the cover-up by the institutional hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. I have read many articles on it, thought and prayed and planned my actions in response. And of course I have written about it.
One theme that emerges time and again in what I read (especially in what I read that is written by Catholics) is that silence is complicity. That everyone and anyone who loves the Church must speak out, must act and demand action. I appreciate that and agree with it. It is too easy to fool ourselves into inaction just because we are afraid, or unsure what to do, or comfortable with our privilege, or…or…or.
(I think of my friend Carol’s determination to decrease her use of plastics. Despite my continuing concern for our environment and all I read, it is her example that has had the most effect on me, that has made me pause every time I reach for a plastic bag, that has made me think of alternatives. A living example of that old truism “Actions speak louder than words.”)
And yet, and yet…there is a silence that is not complicity but is prayer, as this morning’s reading reminds me. There is a silence that is the necessary balance to action (even the action of reading and writing). There is a silence that is creating poetry with God. To paraphrase, here is the difficult challenge:
“She will act in accordance with her words and will be known even by her silence.”
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Perhaps we are called, by these continuing horrific revelations, to identify with and care for the victims: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/suspendedinherjar/2018/08/not-church-care-about/
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“The grand jury investigation named Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik as someone who covered up abuse over the years. After the report was released this week, Zubik called upon the church to listen to victims.
“We all must take this report to heart,” Zubik said. “It’s a story of people’s lives, people who need to be heard, people who need to be healed.”
Zubik is the signatory of the letter the [Pittsburgh] priests are supposed to read this weekend.”
Aw, Mom, I’m sorry (that I was caught).
He doesn’t need to write a (expletive deleted) letter; he needs to resign and be “laicized” NOW.
https://www.npr.org/2018/08/18/639648032/beyond-anger-pittsburgh-priest-says-sex-abuse-report-shook-parishioners?sc=ipad&f=1001
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It is not enough to feel shame and sorrow over the crimes committed by individual priests. Where is the acknowledgment of responsibility for and pledge to action against the larger horrendous crime of a complicit, corrupt hierarchy that hid and enabled the abuse. The Catholic Church needs reform and cleansing: https://www.npr.org/2018/08/16/639380193/pope-francis-expresses-shame-and-sorrow-over-latest-abuse-allegations?sc=tw
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“We are guilty of many errors and many faults,
but our worst crime is abandoning the children,
neglecting the fountain of life.
Many things can wait. Children cannot.
Right now their bones are being formed,
their blood is being made,
and their senses are being developed.
To them we cannot answer, ‘Tomorrow.’
Their name is today.” Gabriela Mistral
What’s on my mind is my total disgust with the complicit, secretive, self-protecting and self-aggrandizing hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
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“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton) There is no better example of that truth than the Catholic Church.
From the grand jury report:
“We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands.”
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/steelmagnificat/2018/08/5880/#hGtLirx2mo9osAIB.01
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The Catholic Church’s hierarchy can’t have it both ways: They try to identify the Church with their hierarchical structure to enforce obedience and then say “oh we are all the church” when it comes to the need for admission of sin and need for penance.
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I so badly wanted to hear from Francis. There are parts of his letter that do resonate with my grief and anger and that do seem hopeful but why is it that “… the entire holy faithful People of God [are invited] to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting…” but never invited to full participation in the church priesthood and hierarchy? Why this persistent blindness?
https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-08/pope-francis-letter-people-of-god-sexual-abuse.html
When they are doing time, I will be willing to join in prayers and penance.
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“If it takes a village to raise a child. it takes a village to abuse one.’
– Mitchell Garabedian, lawyer known for representing sexual abuse victims in the Boston area during the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal, including the cases against Paul Shanley, John Geoghan, and the Archdiocese of Boston. He also represented one of the people who accused football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexual misconduct.
It is not just our priesthood that is the problem… but members of the laity who enable the caste system, who treat priests like princes, who shush those who raise critical voices. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.
For those of us who grew up Catholic, we were each victimized to some extent by the ugly powerful secretive sect that the Catholic patriarchal hierarchy has become. Some of us are old enough to remember pre-Vatican 2, and the loosening of religious shackles that came with Vatican 2 – a loosening that felt like freedom and reform, but could better be compared to going from enslavement by a harsh owner to enslavement by a kind owner. It was still enslavement. We cannot make that mistake again. To change metaphors, we cannot settle for opening doors and windows, the structure needs to be torn down.
M. Night Shymalan’s The Village is not a particularly good movie, but it is a vivid picture of what can happen when those in power in a village distort reality to control thru fear.
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From the Ephesians reading for today:
“Brothers and sisters:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord…
And be filled with the Spirit…”
Please, Lady Wisdom, may it be so.
But trying to read Psalm 34, the psalm for today, I could not get past thoughts of how hard to impossible these prayers become for those who were victimized. The depth of evil is of the devil.
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The Old Testament reading for today led me to these words in Deuteronomy 32:32-36:
For their vine is from the vine of Sodom,
from the vineyards of Gomorrah.
Their grapes are grapes of poison,
and their clusters are bitter.
Their wine is the venom of serpents,
the cruel poison of vipers.
Is not this stored up with me,
sealed up in my storehouses?
Vengeance is mine and recompense,
for the time they lose their footing;
Because the day of their disaster is at hand
and their doom is rushing upon them!
Surely, the LORD will do justice for his people;
on his servants he will have pity.
My prayer this morning is simply Lady Wisdom, let it be so.
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I had a bit of an epiphany a few minutes ago, trying to respond to a Protestant friend asking why the Catholic Church was so against priests and nuns having families.
I remembered, decades ago, a young friend deciding to leave the novitiate when the novice director refused to give her permission to attend her grandmother’s funeral – a grandmother who had raised her. I remembered the emphasis by the priests and nuns throughout my childhood on the superiority of a religious vocation (to use their words). I remembered the emphasis on obedience, on leaving everything and everyone to cling to Christ only – as embodied in the Church. I remember being taught to distrust all other earthly authority. I remember being taught to distrust my own emotions, my own insights, my own yearnings, when they differed from what the Church had taught was right.
And I remembered one of the first things I learned in my training as a mental health professional – something I saw over and over again through the decades: abusers isolate their victims. Abusers teach their victims to rely only on them. Abusers teach their victims to distrust and even despise themselves and to accept that the abuser knows best.
Make no mistake about it, all of us who were raised within the Catholic Church are the victims of abuse. Not all to the same degree, not all of the same kind. I am not trying to equate ordinary experiences with the horrendous abuse we have once again seen exposed. But I am saying that part of our response needs to be to recognize that the Catholic Church has institutionalized, normalized abuse for centuries.
Perhaps it is beneficial to lay claim to the true un-institutional holy small-c catholic Church, a beloved community of believers. That is fine as long as we recognize that the institutional Catholic Church is, and long has been, an abuser that use its power and wealth to solidify the abuse.
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THE SCANDAL OF SEXUAL ABUSE: A MOMENT OF RADICAL CONVERSION FOR THE CHURCH by Gilles Mongeau, SJ
This is a wondrous piece and will be my reflection piece for this week. God provides – through you today. Thank YOU!
I don’t have an easy relationship with God or a steady faith. I have found, thru decades of struggle, that psalms, yoga and Ignatian reflection are the best ways for me to understand myself and guide my responses. Given a free choice, I would walk away from the RCC, but my choice is not free – I will worship with my 94 year old mother in a Catholic Church as long as she is alive and living with me. It is very important to her. So I need to turn to my tried and true, God-given aids for discerning my own continuing response to this horror.
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What’s worked for the hierarchy so far is a brief “heartfelt” apology….a brief uproar, some people leave, then back to business as usual. If we want something different, we have to make it happen. Personally, “I’m aiming to misbehave.”
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As the revealed abuse goes beyond scandal, beyond crisis, ever deeper into the expected but disappointing non-response of the hierarchy, I become more aware of the profound blessings of exclusion. As Catholic women, we have no vested power to be threatened or to lose. As Catholic women, excluded for centuries, we find it easier to empathize with the ignored victims. As Catholic women, we cannot turn to the established church for legitimacy but only to God. As a Catholic woman, I feel that I have some right to claim a kinship to a crucified Nazarene holy man.
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(On reading Pope Francis’ homily urging us to “accuse ourselves” rather than focusing on the faults and sins of others)
I’m done, DONE, DONE – It is all simply different versions of shut up, leave us alone, and above all SHUT UP. Twisted, self-serving theology that I cannot respond to any more except with foul language. WHERE ARE THE VICTIMS? WHERE IS TAKING UP THEIR CROSS FOR THEM?
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The Tree Fell

The tree fell
Without ax to sever bark
Without storm to quake branches
Without water to weaken roots
The tree fell

Only after it lay down
Wide branches blocking, breaking
The road
Instead of shading
Only after it lay down
Did we see the hollowness
The rotten core
That brought it down

Her Last Year

The men worry me
they come in at night to take a shower
in my bathroom
they stand over my bed
but I pray to Jesus to protect me
and they go away
The food worries me
they are putting something in my food
I can see it when I look in the toilet
after I, you know
brown specks, about that big
they look like raisins
sometimes I see them in the cereal
and in the rice
I eat bananas and Activia
I like ice cream and potato chips
but I have to be careful

For her, darkling demons, dementia’s brood
Blacken her mind, shutter memory’s flare
Fearful paranoia her only mood
Terrible conjurings her steady fare.

God promises to take care of me
If I persevere through my trials
It’s here, in the Bible
I have to persevere
The Ensure doesn’t taste right anymore
I think they put something in it
I don’t think they like me
But I never complain
People come to see the apartment
I hear them talking outside
They are going to throw me out
Our Father, whose art is heaven
hallow hollow be be bee in my bon…name, your
kingdom be done with this
on heaven
On TV, those cooking shows
They cook dogs and cats now
I don’t mind the cats so much
Not that I would ever eat that
But I won’t watch them cook dogs
I can’t the words in the prayer books
Right here beside me
I went to Bible Study but they made fun of me
in the dining room they laugh at me
because my feet are funny
and my throat makes a noise when I swallow

Each day her mind flees down steep sickness stairs
Each night’s delusions twist without relief
She wakes to troubled attempted prayers
Jumbles once familiar words of belief.

I have to persevere.
God tells me
Andi has been pregnant a long time
a year or two now I’m
waiting for that baby
My great-grandson Ruth
Woody’s wife that other one
she does my laundry and says
she and Woody are wife but Ruth
is died
Did she
That doctor, she wanted to know when I was born
She my graduation picture
I was quite a looker
I tried to figure it out
but I can’t remember when my parents
we lived in Emmaus
My father grew
strawberries I think he
drank

All meaning lost to Alzheimer’s sly thief
Robbed of truth, mem’ries comfort no more

God does laundry when Woody
comes I’ll tell God to
persevere
The couple comes out of
their hole to watch my TV
they don’t want to pay for their own
my dogs on the                                 chair
protect me                  from that
snake under that what call                           chair
the dogs              follow me
with eyes
that’s    how
I know they’re alive
though Andi Andi Andi said                    stuffed
stuff of alive though
persevere
God Wood y
Andi came with                         ?baby?
picture who        is             that
No
Go way
Ipretty Joe
persevere
Who

When she dies, deep relief buries our grief
We pack her room quickly, a final chore.

Why write, griefless, when death has set her free?
Just this, please God, send swifter death to me.

A Catholic Woman Speaks

Paraphrase of Ez 12:1-12

The word of God came to me:
Daughter of woman, you worship and labor in the midst of a rebellious church;
they have eyes to see but do not see,
and ears to hear but do not hear,
for they are a rebellious church.
Now, daughter of woman, in the harsh glare of revelations, while they are looking on,
prepare your spirit as though you were one of the abused,
and again while they are looking on,
migrate from where you worship and labor under them to another place;
perhaps they will see that they are a rebellious house.
You shall bring out your spirit like one of the abused, in the harsh glare of revelations
while they are looking on;
in the quiet sanctuary, again while they are looking on,
you shall go out like one of those abused and driven into exile;
while they look on, dig a hole through their walled indifference and pass beyond it;
while they look on, shoulder the burden of the abused and set out in the darkness;
cover your face and weep, refuse their boundaries on your soul,
for I have made you a sign for the Catholic Church.

I did as I was told.
In the harsh glare of revelations I brought out my spirit
as though it were that of an abused one,
and in the quiet sanctuary I dug a hole through their walled indifference with my prayers and actions
and, while they looked on, I set out in the darkness as one abused,
shouldering their burden.

Then, in the morning, the word of the God came to me:
Daughter of woman, did not the Catholic Church, that rebellious house,
ask you what you were doing?
Tell them: Thus says God
This oracle concerns Rome
and the whole hierarchy within it.
I am a sign for you:
as I have done, so shall it be done to you;
as captives you shall go into exile.
The prince who is among you shall shoulder this burden
and set out in darkness,
going through a hole he has dug out in your walled indifference,
and covering his face in shame for all to see.

 

An Appreciation of His Hands

His hands, tree roughened,
Move up and down my barked skin.

I recoil slightly when my own keyboard hands
Encounter a patch of my washboard skin,
Stuttering over ridges,
Withdrawing into planed places
Unmarred.

But his hands,
His gentle tree trained hands,
Glide over my body without pause
Accepting the damaged and the pristine
As if there is no sin,
No fall from grace,
As if there is only beauty
Created under his hands.

The Woman Caught

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” John 8:2-11

Sometimes I wish he had let them stone me.
Sometimes I wish I could go again to my lover.
Sometimes I pray for death.

Once I was beautiful.
Once I was young.
Once I was wealthy.

I had a husband.
I had children.
I had a lover.

My husband divorced me.
My children won’t speak to me.
My lover, ah my young lover…

Who is he with?
Has he married?
Does he love her, as once he…

No, those memories are forbidden.
That life is dead.
That person, the woman I was then…

I need to remember my terror.
I need to remember my shame.
It is easy to remember their cruelty.

I remember their plot.
How they tried to use me.
How they hated and feared him.

They talked but not to me.
They dragged me.
They despised me.

They shouted but he spoke softly.
They stood proud and straight.
He stooped and fingered the ground.

They argued but he kept writing.
He spoke and they went away.
One by one they went away.

I was so scared.
I groveled, waiting for the first stone.
I don’t remember what he said.

Until he asked me who condemned me.
I looked up and they were all gone.
Even my husband had slunk away.

I said no one who condemned me is here.
He said then he did not condemn me.
He said go and sin no more.

But then they killed him.
He died on a Roman cross.
And his mercy died with him.

Now I do not sin.
Now I beg for crumbs.
Now I wait for death.

Sometimes I think stoning would have been better.
Sometimes I wish for a faster death.
Sometimes I hate him for saving me.

He saved me but could not save himself.
Though Mary says he lives still.
Mary says she talked to him.

Mary reminds me of him.
She has the same gentle strength.
Maybe I will go with her, as she asks.

Go to the people who believe he still lives.
My savior still lives.
Can it be true?