Labor Pains in the Church

This morning the top story on my Facebook newsfeed was a post about the sudden resignation of one of my former profs at Sacred Heart Major Seminary — one of the few female professors, who had taught there for decades. God alone knows the full story, and the point of sharing even this much is to acknowledge my own grief and dismay over just how broken the Body of Christ has become. Color me naïve, but never in a million years would I have suspected just how widespread this sickness had grown.

go bravelyThen, mercifully, a bit of light came in the form of another post, this one by Ave author Emily Wilson. Like me, she has grown weary of the brokenness that has surfaced in the Church. In her post, “Labor, Delivery, and Our Sick and Sorry Church” she compares what is going on in the Church today with the painful realities of childbirth, particularly C-section:

There are evil men in my Church who have abused their power at the expense of thousands of innocent people whose lives are forever altered by such abuse, and  … spineless cowards … who have covered for these monsters and done absolutely nothing to protect the vulnerable except turn a blind eye and pretend to be exhibiting “leadership.” Any person with a brain would wonder why anyone would stay when the continued cover-ups of abuse and corruption go so deep and wide it is unfathomable.

But on that Sunday in the hospital, as I sat on my bed with my baby in a clear box on wheels next to me, and this woman held up the Eucharist, I received “His body, given up” for me. Those words I had spoken to my baby so many times the day before this Eucharist…they are the reason I stay.  

To be Catholic is to understand that pain and suffering is not without purpose when it becomes a purifying force, joined to the sufferings of Christ. In his March 2002 homily that was later picked up by the Los Angeles Times,  my friend Monsignor Clem Connelly observed, “What’s happening is good for the church,” he told parishioners. “Bad for its image, maybe, but good for the church. In some miraculous way . . . through the growing of the Holy Spirit in the church, we will find our way to a new day in which there is more honesty, courage, faith and accountability.”

That was more than fifteen years ago. So much has happened since that time, and yet his words continue to hold true. The pain and suffering of the faithful — innocent laity and clergy alike — are like the labor pains of the mother whose body has betrayed her, and must be splayed open in order to give that child life. “This is my body, given up for you.”

Give us strength, dear Jesus, not to waiver. And give us sustaining faith that we might never turn away from the scalpel of the Great Physician.

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God of Comfort and Healing

Yesterday I spent the morning at the allergist with Sarah, who mightily resisted the idea of getting multiple pokes to be tested for allergies.

Actually, that’s putting it mildly. She screeched and carried on like we were skinning her alive, so bound-and-determined was she not to get scratched by a dozen little plastic toothpicks. Happily, none of the tests proved positive, though we are going to have her treat her room for dust mites.

The last time we were in the doctor’s office to get a flu shot for the kids, Sarah put on a similar display … and was dumbfounded by how her brother sat stoically while he got his shot. “Doesn’t it hurt him, too?” she wanted to know.

“Well, probably not as much. You see, when he sits still and thinks about something else, his body relaxes and the shot doesn’t hurt so much. When you get yourself all worked up and upset, your muscles tense up and the shot hurts even more than if you just sat quietly.”

Of course, that sage bit of advice didn’t do much good yesterday. At the sight of the toothpicks, she went into full panic mode. But she did recall the advice I gave her … she recited it almost verbatim. “If I sit still and sing a song, the shots won’t hurt so much, right Mommy?”

Right, Sweetheart.

Today I was reading Barb SFO’s blog, and came across her post on receiving the sacrament of anointing in preparation for an upcoming surgery. When I was going to classes at Sacred Heart, I remember sitting in Father Daniel Jones’ class on the sacraments, and asking him about the power of the sacraments. As a Protestant, I had attended many healing services, and had even once received physical healing through the intercession of an elder (a story for another time). But so often, the sacrament of anointing does not produce physical healing — in fact, it is most often given at the end of life, to one who is near death. What, then, was the point?

I’ll never forget his answer. “The real power in the sacrament is not physical healing alone, but spiritual healing. Sooner or later, we all die. Even those Jesus healed, sooner or later, succumbed. The power in the sacrament is often to strengthen the faithful for whatever lies ahead — be it death, or convalescence, or (in some cases) return to physical health.”

In a way, the sacrament is like a mother’s arms. Sometimes those arms are comforting and even healing as we hold the crying child, apply the bandages, take the temperature. Sometimes those arms are unpopular and unwanted as we prevent her from doing something she really, really wants to do but that would not be good for her.

And sometimes, like yesterday, a mother’s arms are called upon to become harsh and unyielding, to do the really difficult thing: to restrain our child to receive a painful treatment. We allow her to endure the pain, the horror, the fear, the anger. And we stay with her, holding and comforting as best we can, all the while.