For example, right now, in the U.S., the Catholic Church has been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse - and it's only beginning. While the revelations in the grand jury report in Pennsylvania have been shocking and heart-breaking, there are many more Dioceses across the country which need to become transparent about the abuse that has happened. This is real justice for the victims!
Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., Editor of "America" magazine, says,
"Like you, I experienced a range of emotions—anger, sorrow, sadness. Above all, fear. There is the fear of what is to come. The grand jury report covered only six dioceses of the nearly 200 Catholic dioceses in the United States. Surely the news will only get worse as more dioceses release their records. They should do so at once. Such disclosures, as the editors write in this issue, 'should be anticipated and embraced, not resisted until they are imposed' by civil authorities. 'One of the few remaining ways that the church can offer mercy to survivors of sexual abuse,' they continue, 'is to demonstrate through such voluntary disclosures that we value the sacred dignity of the victims more than the church’s reputation and security.'
At the same time, priests, deacons, and laity in these Dioceses are offering up always passionate and sometimes conflicting opinions about what should be happening to help resolve the many issues revealed by these accusations. People debate and even argue, for instance, about whether their Bishop should resign, or about what kinds of structural changes should happen in the Church to give the laity more of a voice and make Bishops more accountable for their decisions and their actions. What is real justice here? How can the Church prevent more fault-lines of division and rediscover peace? How can each of us rediscover peace in the ongoing challenges and turmoils of our own lives?
There's a saying among social justice workers: If you want peace, work for justice.
But there's an equally compelling saying: If you want peace, BE peace. What does that mean? How can we find Peace by BEING Peace?
To have a peaceful heart can only happen and become real when we live MINDFULLY in the moment, with all its horrors or guilts, painfulness or joys, and consciously relax enough inwardly to be aware of all that is happening.
Here's another definition of mindfulness:
"Mindfulness. It’s a pretty straightforward word. It suggests that the mind is fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing, to the space you’re moving through. That might seem trivial, except for the annoying fact that we so often veer from the matter at hand. Our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we’re engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or fretting about the future. And that makes us anxious. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us."
If we relax inwardly, we can then respond with a welcoming listening. How can we relax inwardly? By letting go of all the conscious and half-conscious ways that we become defensive, or want to protect the status quo, or are ego-driven, or have pre-conceived ideas. We can only do that if inside we can "stand back" from ourselves and concentrate on the event itself or on the other person.
Paul Knitter, a social justice advocate since the '80s, says
"“being peace,” . . . means deepening the practice of mindfulness, both formally in regular meditation as well as throughout the day as we receive every person and every event that enters our lives; through such mindfulness we will, more and more, be able to understand . . . whomever we meet or whatever we feel, and so respond with compassion. Only with the peace that comes with such mindfulness will we be able to respond in a way that brings forth peace for the event or person or feeling we are dealing with."
Another Christian way of describing this peace-filled response is being mindfully open to the present moment and its message because you trust that God is There. Knitter says,
"Openness to what? To what is, to what’s going on right now, in the trust that what is going on is what I am a part of and what will sustain and lead me, moment by moment. Only moment by moment. There are no grand visions promised here. Just a mindful trusting of each moment as it comes, with what it contains, with its confusion or inspiration, with its joy or horror, with its hope or despair. Whatever is there, this suchness right now, is the breath of the Spirit, the power of Mystery, the connectedness of Emptiness. . . . The suchness of each moment is the infinite Mercy of God. "
You see, IF you trust that God is at work in us and in every person and event, moment by moment, IF you trust that what is happening right now is filled with the Breath of the Holy Spirit - THEN we can set aside our egos; THEN we can be vulnerable; THEN we can set aside knee-jerk reactions to people and events; THEN we can respond to others with welcoming, understanding, and compassion. Then, instead of frantically searching for peace, we can BE Peace, and Bring Peace.
Just over this weekend, Pope Francis has been in Ireland to speak at the World Meeting of Families. During this time, he deliberately set aside time to meet with eight survivors of clerical, religious, and institutional abuse. You can imagine what he was thinking and feeling before he met them. He must have wondered what they would say, if they would attack him or the Church for inaction, and how he would or could respond. He must have told himself not to be defensive, or go on the attack himself, not to pre-judge the people and what he was going to hear. He must have prayed to be mindful, welcoming, compassionate, an agent of healing and peace.
You can also imagine what was going on in the minds and hearts of these survivors. They must have asked themselves - how should they describe what happened to them? How could they be courageous enough to be honest with the Pope? How could they prevent their own knee-jerk reactions to being in the presence of the Head of the Church whose messengers inflicted such pain, trauma, and outrage on their lives? And the biggest, scariest question of all: How would he respond to them?
"America" magazine tells us what happened:
"Pope Francis met for 90 minutes with eight survivors of clerical, religious and institutional abuse at the Vatican nunciature in Dublin, Ireland this Saturday afternoon, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke announced today.
"The group of survivors included Marie Collins, who was abused by a priest at the age of 12. She was a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors before she resigned in protest of Vatican inaction on the issue in 2017. The others present were identified as Bernadette Fahy, Damian O’Farrell, Paul Jude Redmond, Clodagh Aileen Malone, and two priests: Fathers Patrick McCafferty and Joe McDonald. One survivor asked to remain anonymous.
"lTwo of the survivors, Paul Jude Redmond and Clodagh Aileen Malone, issued a statement after the meeting in which they said they are cofounders of 'The Coalition of Mother And Baby Homes Survivors' (together with Derek Leinster from the Protestant Bethany Home and Theresa Hiney, neither of whom were present). They described the coalition as a worldwide coalition of Mother and Baby Homes survivors.
"Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes were maternity homes created by religious orders to help unwed mothers and their children. They have been under intense scrutiny in recent years for their policies of separating mothers from their children, engaging in widespread institutional abuse of women and children, and covering up physical and sexual abuse for decades.
"Their statement revealed that survivor Clodagh Aileen Malone, who was born in Saint Patrick's Mother and Baby Home in Dublin and adopted at 10 weeks old, asked the Pope to state clearly and publicly that the natural mothers who lost their babies to adoption had done nothing wrong and to call for reconciliation and reunion for these families broken by the Catholic Church both in Ireland and around the world. They said that Pope Francis had agreed to include their message in his Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park tomorrow, Aug. 26.
"Paul Jude Redmond, who was born in Castlepollard Mother and Baby Home and adopted at 17 days, asked Pope Francis to publicly call upon the orders of women religious who ran the Mother and Baby Homes to immediately accept their responsibilities for the horror that went on for generations in those institutions, to issue an unqualified and sincere apology, and to pay the full costs of investigations into and restitution for the abuses in Ireland. Survivors also told Pope Francis that the religious orders who ran the homes 'have never taken responsibility for their willful neglect.' They asked the pope 'to publicly call on these nuns to acknowledge their actions and issue an unqualified apology to all the survivors of their institutions.'
"The survivors also gave Pope Francis a copy of Mr. Redmond's book, The Adoption Machine, which contains details of the thousands of deaths and horrors that occurred at the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland.
"Their statement quoted Clodagh Aileen Malone as saying '(It was a) very powerful meeting. He listened with a genuine interest. And he asked many questions about Mother and Baby Homes.'
"One survivor of sex abuse said that Pope Francis 'was genuinely shocked' to hear of the abuses that took place at these institutions, 'and so lifted his hands to his head in shock.'
"The survivors gave a letter to Pope Francis which informed him that 'around 100,000 single mothers who were forcibly separated from their babies were regularly told it was a mortal sin to search for, or even contact, their own sons and daughters.' They asked the pope 'as an act of healing' that he 'make it clear to the now elderly and dying community of natural mothers and adoptees, that there is no sin in reunion and rather that it is a joyous event that should be encouraged and facilitated by the Catholic Church.'
"'We feel hopeful there will be more movement from the church on the issue of Mother and Baby Homes,' Mr. Redmond was quoted. He said Pope Francis 'was genuinely shocked' to hear of the abuses that took place at these institutions, 'and so lifted his hands to his head in shock.'
"They said that Pope Francis 'did apologize to all of us for what happened in the Homes, and that he condemned the corruption and coverup of abuses within the church as 'filth.'” (“caca”).
How powerful and inspiring it is that the Pope and the Survivors were able to meet face to face and be open and vulnerable with each other. The survivors openly shared their pain, anger, and grief. The Pope was vulnerable enough to accept all their thoughts and feelings, their horrifying facts, to ask questions, to lift his hands to his head in genuine shock. To, above all, apologize with humility, and call what happened to them 'filth,' and promise to publicly call upon the orders of women religious who ran the Mothers and Babies Homes to apologize and to take full moral and financial responsibility for the horrors that happened in them for generations. And the Pope also promised to work for the reunion, the reconciliation, of these families which were broken apart. Surely everyone walked away from that meeting with a gentle, though fragile, new peace in their hearts.
The Editors of "America" magazine demonstrate a similar mindful openness to addressing sexual abuse in the U.S., and recount how Church leaders hope to creatively address it:
"Do not pretend that bishops alone can hold themselves and each other to account. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany has called for a commission of laypeople to investigate claims of abuse and misconduct against bishops. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has announced that the bishops will take up a comprehensive plan to address this “moral catastrophe” in their November meeting. Such a plan should be swiftly implemented, with a clear mandate for a commission to examine the culture, policies and practices that enabled bishops to continue assigning abusive priests and to recommend effective remedies. The bishops of the United States should both endorse such a commission themselves and also ask Pope Francis to give it his clear approval. As we first said several weeks ago, the bishops should not hesitate to call on those among them who have failed most grievously to acknowledge their faults and to resign."
In this terrible "moment" in Church history of addressing sexual abuse in the Church, we can mindfully "come away" with lessons about how each of us needs new, deeper, more mindful openness in our own hearts To be open, moment by moment, to reality - to people, events, the unwelcome but necessary revelation of painful truths, involves letting go of power. If we feel superior, we can never be vulnerable. If we believe that we have all the truth, all the "facts," - we can never be interested in what others say - or be vulnerable. If we aren't mindfully transparent, vulnerable and welcoming, we can never be interested in working for transparency and compassion in our relationships with others and in our institutions. The more mindful, vulnerable, transparent, and welcoming we are, the more deeply we can heal others, BE Peace, and bring peace.
To BE peace, we must recognize the Holy Spirit within us Who IS our Peace, Who loves, welcomes, shows mercy, and reconciles through us, with us and in us.
The more of us who can be mindful, prayerful people, who can BE Peace - the more we can creatively move forward together to compassionately heal ourselves, our lives, our Churches, our world.