Every sinner has a future, every saint has a past

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Sep 06, 2019

A dear friend just experienced a major disappointment, and it's gotten me thinking.

My friend, a lifelong Catholic, has had a hard time finding a church locally where she feels at home. She is more liberal than some of her coreligionists in this area, as well as a number of the clergy, and has had to walk out of services where pedophile priests were defended or excused, and where gay men and lesbians were disparaged.

In the last few months, she had found a priest she started calling, "the little old guy," a cleric called out of retirement to serve a diocese with too few priests for the existing congregations. This man gave brief, simple sermons in a forthright, humble style that my friend admired and respected. She seemed to feel he had mastered the essence of the Gospel: that all are called to live into God's love, and to share it widely.

She liked this priest enough that she would look up each week which parish he was preaching at (she did actually learn his name) and, if at all possible, would go there. I started kidding her about being a "clergy groupie." But I also understood how much it meant to her to hear God's love preached without pomp or pretense.

Last week she couldn't find this man scheduled anywhere in the Midcoast. So she looked him up online. And learned that, as an employee of the Diocese of Portland, he had helped cover up the behavior of priests in this diocese who abused young people. To say she was deeply disappointed would be an understatement. It was a terrible loss.

When we talked about it, we considered the possibility that the priest in question might have repented; and I hope he has. But I think it will be some time before my friend is ready to go back to church.

All of this got me thinking about how much greyer our lives are than we tend to think. There is so much less black and white than we'd like. Our own motives are mixed, and so are those of nearly everyone around us. While I believe real altruism exists, I also think it is rare. Often, idealism looks like altruism until things get complicated, and we have to weigh one good against another, or choose the lesser of two evils. Then it can turn into cold pragmatism pretty fast as ends are made to justify means.

There is no excuse, ever, for anyone to abuse a young person, or to misuse a position of trust. But no one is all one way -- we are filled with both flowers and garbage, angels and demons, if you will. And we take a risk when we give others our admiration -- that they will not live up to our idea of them. We must choose our heroes carefully, lest we be disappointed. And perhaps we should also be generous to our heroes, allowing them their humanity.

Though we are filled with both flowers and garbage, and few can claim truly pure motives, our task, I think, is to learn to recognize the garbage when it spills out of us into the lives of others, own it, and try to repair the damage. We needn't promise to banish garbage from our lives -- then we wouldn't be human. But the more we can own our own garbage, the less it may pollute our relationships.

Because, in the end, however much harm the priest my friend admired did (and I imagine it may have been quite a bit), he also must have moved many people the way he moved my friend when he spoke of the love of God. It may be that he is able to preach so movingly because of the forgiveness and love he has received.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 07, 2019 14:44

Thanks Sarah, I needed this read! And A-Men to the subject matter....

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Sep 06, 2019 15:40

God loved me when there was absolutely nothing there to love.  Maybe that is why I take the words of Holy scripture seriously: 

John 13:34
New International Version (NIV)

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." :)

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