Monday, May 31, 2010

A public confession of anger

Over on the irrepressible Father John Zuhlsdorf's page, What Does The Prayer Really Say?, there is a post of a story taking place in Rockford, Illinois.

Since 2008, a group of priests has been showing up to pray—apparently prayers from the rite of exorcism?—at the local abortion mill, which has since suffered a decline of patients and profits. The abortion mill, which is apparently not only staffed by anti-Catholics but also renting space from an anti-Catholic, started posting insulting signs within a month of their appearance.

From Father Z's source, Pro-Life Corner: "On Friday May 29th [sic], the abortion mill sank to a new low even for them. As a priest was quietly praying the prayers of the Church accompanied by a seminarian, someone inside the building that houses the Northern Illinois Women's Center put a sign that clearly stated, 'F*** Your Perverted Priests.'

"Catholic priests have also had to endure personal insults from the abortion mill landlord and security guard. The car of one priest has been egged by an abortion supporter at this mill. A priest has also had a hand-written sign taped to his car while he was quietly praying on the sidewalk in front of the mill. The sign read, 'I Rape Children.'"

At the end of this paragraph, Father Z inserted a comment in bold red type: "Thanks, you sick and wicked … brothers. Thanks for this gift that keeps giving." He linked the word "brothers" to a post from March 25th, in which he confessed: "… I am filled with anger right now at the harm that was done by those sick and surely wicked people. I just want to …

"Thanks a lot you wicked bastards. Enjoy your eternal reward.

"Have a nice Year of the Priest.

"And God help me for these thoughts."

I know, Father. I'm angry too. Even now, after the bulk of the Holy Week furor is subsided, after eight years since the "Long Lent", I find myself raging at the twisted souls who used their priesthood to pressure young people into sex. I remain, as I was eight years ago, especially angry at the episcopal cowards who (like Abp. Rembert Weakland) stuck their heads in the sand, who (like Cdl. Bernard Law) tried to hide these shameful perversions instead of risking scandal—DO YOU CALL THAT BEING SUCCESSORS TO THE APOSTLES!!!?

I also find myself disappointed in Ven. John Paul II, who despite his many saintly qualities surrounded himself with pinhead bureaucrats who could not—or did not want to—understand the depth and gravity of the problem. I still hope he is canonized eventually; after all, being a poor judge of men isn't a sin. But I can't help thinking of the missed opportunities to deal with the problem without laboring under the suspicion of corporate conspiracy.

But above all—and, given my last essay, this is especially poignant—I find myself occasionally hoping that John Geoghan, Lawrence Murphy and their ilk rot in Hell. What they did was inexcusable and indefensible, an abomination before the Lord and before men.

Dear God. Forgive me for my sin.

The fact is, a person who is fully possessed of love for the Lord doesn't want anyone to go to Hell, even as she acknowledges that some people will end up there by their own choice. A person who loves the Lord loves others, and thus desires their good. Anger and hatred can twist the soul if one becomes too enslaved in them. Moreover, a person incapable of forgiving others their sins—no matter how horrible they are—has no claim on the forgiveness of God (cf. Mt. 6:14-15; 18:23-35).

Why, then, do we have laws? We have laws, police, judges and prisons because order is necessary to the survival of the community. A community incapable of punishing the law-breaker has no law; where there is no law, there are no rights.

And yet … "I was in prison, and you came to me" (Mt 25:36). Even the prisoner, cut off from society for his crimes, is no less a valid object of charity and mercy than the poor, the sick, the widowed and orphaned. It becomes the task of the Christian not to seek vengeance but correction, so that even the most abominable of sinners may see God: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43).

"Charity" comes from the Latin caritas, which translates the Greek agapÄ“, one of the "four loves" C. S. Lewis writes of in the book The Four Loves. Charity is the love St. Paul writes of in 1 Corinthians 13: "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (vv. 4-7). It is the love Christ speaks of in his Last Supper discourses: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. … Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you" (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12-14).

Now—and this is daunting—this outpouring of mercy [i.e. God's forgiveness—TL] cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see [cf. 1 Jn 4:20]. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father's merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2840).

Is there then no sin that is so completely beyond the pale, so disgusting and depraved, that even God can't forgive it? There is, and—ironically—far more people commit it than they do pederasty: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 12:31; Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10). It's unforgivable not because of any limitation on God but due to the very nature of the crime. For blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the rejection of God's grace and forgiveness. It is the obstinate persistence in sin, due either to one's refusal to accept the sinful nature of the act,[1] or to one's decision—after mature reflection—not to refrain from the act despite full recognition of its sinfulness.

Yet the judgment of souls is specifically reserved to the Lord alone at the Final Judgment. In the case of the predator priest, only God can know whether he possessed sufficient maturity or free will to merit damnation for his crimes; only God can know the depth and extent to which he has repented and honestly attempted to amend his life. If we are to pray for the predator priest, we are to pray for his conversion and repentance, for his psyche to be healed so that he can come to full awareness of his sin and thus the need for God's grace.

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried" (G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World). We sin not only by committing evil acts but also by omitting or denying charity and mercy when the opportunity to extend them presents itself. For it is not only the wicked who will be cast into Hell: "For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. … Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt 25:42-43, 45).

The existence of pedophiles among us is a test of our faith in God. It is Satan's attempt to sift us like wheat (cf. Lk 22:31), and a blow to our credibility among the unbelievers (cf. Rom 2:24). But it is also a chairos: a pregnant time, a time of opportunity and grace, for us to rediscover the need for both repentance and forgiveness.
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[1] We're speaking of a situation where the person is capable of understanding and has access to proper teaching, but "takes little trouble to find out what is good and true, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin" (Gaudium et Spes, 16). In other words, willful, vincible ignorance.