Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Faithful Parishioner has Something to Say

The Way of the Cross, which we proclaim today, is deeply meaningful in my faith journey.  I remember being a little girl, walking with my second grade class around our parish school parking lot, marking the lonesome, painful journey taken by Jesus to His crucifixion.  I didn’t quite understand the significance of the ritual, but as a seven-year-old, I was happy to be out of the classroom. 

As I grew up, the significance of this most sacred journey became a rich source of comfort to me.  My heart breaks each time I ponder Jesus’ last days before His crucifixion.  He had built a popular ministry and was well-liked by many.  People ran around lakes to find Him.  People flocked by the thousands to hear Him teach.  Some even climbed over walls and down through a roof to ask Jesus to heal their loved one.  He fed people, He healed people, He loved people deeply.

And then, so quickly, He was alone.  When things got real, things got lonely.  Where were all His followers, particularly His beloved disciples?  Was fear really stronger than love?

This can be a natural, protective response, can’t it?  To shield oneself from awkward, scary situations.  To be silent rather than risk saying the wrong thing.  I certainly do so at times, and continually ask Jesus for the courage to be more present to people who are suffering.  Being alone during a difficult time is awful – but is a thing that Jesus understands.

One of the most powerful forces in my faith journey comes as Holy Week approaches.  This is the force of openness.  As we remember Jesus being stripped of his dignity, his clothing, and even is life, God invites us to strip ourselves of pride, fear, and shame.  In this spirit of being present in God’s most vulnernable moments, I invite us to open our hearts to a tender, all-too-common reality that many women and men encounter.  One of the loneliest, most frightening situations that a person can face is sexual assault.  Sadly, even our own Church has a shameful history of ignoring and covering up this sort of thing. 

I am a survivor of sexual assault in the Church.  I feel profoundly connected to the vulnerability of Jesus.  Discomfort and fear can keep people at a distance.  Nobody really knows what to do – but rather than this confusion being a root of solidarity and understanding, it can become awkward avoidance, shame, and alienation.  I identify with Jesus – falling, hurting, and not knowing what will happen next.  During these dark times, I think of Jesus during Holy Week, and I know, I am deeply loved.   Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, even when shame and isolation feel paralyzing. 

The day after the inauguration of President Trump, hundreds of thousands of women and men around the world marched for women’s rights.  I was hesitant to attend, because I feared that it would be a superficial, Instragam-perfect event that lacked depth or direction.  I’m so glad I attended.  People were so respectful and honest, sharing stories of dark times and truly listening to others.  People said,”NO!” to our cultural acceptance of sexual assault, misogyny, racism, ableism, and hatred.  People stood up for one another in authentic ways.  I left the march (in NYC) exhausted but energized.  In my journey toward healing after my abuse, I’ve often identified with Jesus on Good Friday – stumbling alone with my cross.  During and after the women’s march, I’ve realized that I’m not alone.

Saint Ignatius encourages us to pray through imagination.  When I pray with scriptures that upset or deflate me, I like to imagine an alternative story – not quite “fake news,” but a new spin.  When I pray about Palm Sunday and the Way of the Cross, I now imagine it to be like that sunny January day in 2017 – people walking together in honesty and solidarity.  I imagine us seeing Jesus on our Way.  Instead of being fearful and ashamed to be by his side, what if, right there in front of H&M, we spoke up and said,”This is wrong! We are with You, Jesus!”  Instead of a stranger being pressed to help Jesus carry His cross, I imagine us all there – the older women, the babies with the bright pink hats, the bold young people – saying,”We’re here, Jesus, we’ll help you!”  Even if Jesus still had to die, how different would the story be if we were there, making sure He was not alone, comforting Him, speaking not only with our words, but with our witness? 

This is the day.  Now is the time.  We have the power to stand up against the worst of human sinfulness.  We have the power to stand up for victims of sexual abuse, discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and violence.  We must stand for those who feel weak – immigrants, victims of abuse, anyone who has been marginalized.  Love is stronger than fear. We have the power, even in our parish and Church, to stand up for the rights, safety, and dignity of every single person.  Perhaps, in this instance, the Holy Week disciples are not our best role models.  We shouldn’t be afraid.  We shouldn’t hide.  If we stick together and act in a spirit of truth and love, we won’t go wrong.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus understands our struggles and is there, walking with us.  This is what keeps me faithful and active in the Church, despite the darkness I have encountered.  Perhaps instead of solely focusing on the lonely Way of the Cross of Jesus’ time, we can instead draw inspiration from those powerful images from January 21, 2017 – people walking together, unafraid, bold, and risen.

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