Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Treating Cancer in the Catholic Church" - Fr. Pat Malone, S.J.

The following is a journal entry from Jesuit priest, Fr. Pat Malone, posted on his CaringBridge website. Fr. Pat offers us all very life-giving words as he applies lessons from his personal battle with cancer - to the deep unwellness manifesting in the Catholic Church. I took the liberty to give his entry a title; I offer it here on Passion Sunday as part of my own attempt at prayer, contemplation, compassion, and love during this entrance into Holy Week.

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde


In a 2007 article, Fr. Andrew Greeley wrote, “The Catholic Church is in deep crisis (always has been, always will be) and desperately needs reform (when has it not?)” ‘Crisis’ is too mild of a term for the current situation. Here are lessons from this health adventure that apply to the Church’s problem, and anyone else confronting deep disaster.

Recognize what is killing you.
It could seem rather routine to recognize cancer, but, as those involved with this health journey know too well, it can disguise itself, continuing to reek harm. (When medical people were not sure of the source of the problem, some suspected it was a painful, incurable nerve disorder. When the results returned with the correct diagnosis, a doctor beamed, “Good news. It’s leukemia.”) It is more difficult to recognize that which destroys our sense of decency, especially when such action requires we give up long-standing practices. One self-exam may this: what’s our reply when the innocent suffer because of us?

Something fundamental has died, or is on life-support, when the immediate response is anything but utter shame, remorse, and outrage that this occurs at all, in an organization that has as its creed to love God and neighbor. When our instinct is anything else, we need a very long retreat. There is a critical need to remember that this problem is universal. It may be right to question the motives of those who constantly probe. It is certainly true that these problems are not exclusive to a church, nor do they represent anything but a small percentage of priests and others who work with children.

But the soul of the church suffers fatally when the instant response is anything but rushing to the wounded (in this case, to the parents). Then we see the appropriate response is not to explain but to ask: how can we be forgiven? What must be done to move forward with hope? Such a first move would reveal the absurdity—and the deepening of the pain—of speaking how this problem occurs everywhere, and this overload of attention is unfair. Both may be true, though both point to how people hold a faith to a higher standard, and both may be needed for any formidable structure to see what is destroying it from within.

When our proclamations focus on the evils in the world while ignoring our own at home, part of our reason to be gets buried. We lose more than integrity; we risk forgetting why we have religion: to re-unite, to transcend the natural drives to satisfy ourselves first, to be on fire with a closeness that created it all, to find redemption is the worst of situations. In most religions there is an additional fundamental: that we must make this world more sane for the most vulnerable. When we put anything above the need to protect them, respect them, build them up, we may have a formidable structure, but it is not holy, nor life-giving. Good news: it can always return to this central belief.

Secrets keep us ill.
All patients have unique reasons to rejoice when they arrive at the day of discharge, though most would see the end of wearing flimsy gowns to be as liberating as able to breath again. Even Gitmo prisoners get pants. Those wicked gowns are thin and flimsy for a reason: no space for cover-up. They expose the signs of disease, danger, or distress. Without them (so patients are told) healing cannot occur.

What has most rattled the world, believers and non-believers, is not that an organization has criminals and disturbed individuals within its ranks, but that those who could put the individuals out of harm’s way did not always do so, sometimes until a public outcry demanded it. The way forward was to conceal. There is a place for discretion, especially when it helps the wounded find a new normal, but secrecy too often feeds on itself: it makes it easier to stay clandestine the next time, and the next time. When we do not speak of the corruption, we do not stop it.

Secrets keep us ill. They perpetuate shame; simmer our grudges, lock us into bleakness. Keeping things secret helps us to rationalize the worst of our behaviors. They make it possible to deny that any of us can do horrific things, especially to the weak. They block us from accepting that we can act contrary to the most cherished ideals of our better selves, or that we will sometimes do the expedient rather than the right thing. Worst of all, secrets convince us that we either do not need redemption, or its beyond our reach.

Ask a nurse how to heal from the hidden decay and dangers in our lives: Take responsibility for self-care. Let others see it, name it, help evaluate its problem. Stop making it worse by pretending there’s no need for a painstaking cleansing. Don’t let your disease make more people ill. Use what is good in your body to help fight it. In this case, use the church’s under-rated tool (handed down from the Jewish faith) of reconciliation. Use it to see hear how others have paid a price for one’s lack of self-care. Use it because it gets easier to openly speak the truth the next time, and the next time.

Welcome visitors.

Listen to those who know you are not well. Welcome their questions, even if you have no answers, even if you don’t know why they ask it. Let yourself be available, candid, trusting. Do this not because it is comfortable, but because it keeps us from getting unaccountable, gruff, and removed from the day to day realities of the people around us. Welcome and listen to them, knowing we learn most about ourselves when we have interruptions.

Our hope for healing may be in how much we allow others to show where we are weak. We do not always see what is obvious to others. We may know we obsess over some small points; they may see the big points we are blocking. We may have grown accustomed to our manageable mess. They may see the mounds of chaos that surround us. We may be convinced we have the answers to this terrible tragedy. They may show us we are avoiding the tough questions.

Receive the full strength of women.
It’s a scary thought to imagine a hospital without the dedication, leadership, and joy of women. Now we know this absence is a frightening scenario for any institution. Its hard to imagine that the skewed priorities of preserving an institution’s reputation over the well-being of a damaged child could occur had there been at least one grandmother in the conversations. Men are certainly able to avoid the trappings that come with holding moral authority. They can be kind care-givers. It is just that the current betrayal of trust requires us to no longer impede anyone who can restore guidance, credibility, and confidence to a hurting institution. Golda Meir wrote, “
Whether women are better (leaders) than men I cannot say - but I can say they are certainly no worse.”

We need the wisdom from those who have moved civilization forward when others have gone to war. We need the perseverance from those who have stayed with the sick, the uneducated, the hungry. We need the passion from those who know the sting of being ignored. We need the love of those who stay focused an organization’s core mission. Dorothy Day wrote in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness: “I loved the church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal for me."

This week, followers of this Christ enter into their High Holy days, and hear again—to confirm Andrew Greeley’s point—stories of betrayal, angst, and innocent suffering. May this eternal love become more visible, trustworthy, and humble in this vessel that desperately needs reform. May our own encounters with life’s fragility help us to make the church ever closer to what its founder intended; a place where the mistreated, the ill, the sinner all find healing.

1 comment:

Sr. Rafael Tilton, OFM said...

Dear Melissa,
In addition, I think, it behooves all of us not to be scandalized by the stones along our path to holiness and integrity. There are lots of ways to be scandalized, to stumble on the stone of scandal. We can be horrified to the point of paralysis, angry, too sad to pray, or we can even turn away and walk another way than with the Lord. But as the Oracle of Isaiah tells us this morning, the Suffering Servant is all for service, gentleness and giving care and peace. Thus will it ever be, and wasn't it part of the package for that Loving Person who came down to effect the Incarnation and to bring us all into the Way of Peace? Jesus said the stone of scandal can be a millstone around our neck and bear us down below the waves of life where there is not a breath to be taken. Well He knew that the stone which was rejected by the builders became the cornerstone, and that if it falls on us, we can be ground to pieces. So let us love and be loved.
Blessings on you, Francois, and the coming little one.

Peace and All Good
Sr. Rafael