Friday, November 11, 2011

The rush from what happened to who is to blame.

Before I begin this column, I want to start off with a few preliminary remarks. Sexual abuse of any kind, but especially sexual abuse of minors, is a tragedy. It is a reality of this fallen world but a tragic reality and my heart hurts for the victims and their families. In my heart of hearts, I hope that Jesus wasn't speaking figuratively when he warned that drowning violently would be a better death than what is in store for those who hurt a child.

Now on to what I've been tossing around in my head. And these truly are just my thoughts. I'm not speaking in any way on behalf of the church (or the Church, for the matter). For the past week, I've watched with sadness what has taken place at Penn State University. I mourn for the kids and families who went through this crap. As I said before, it is a tragedy. But, to be honest, I'm nervous at how quickly things moved from the stage of finding out what happened to finding out who is at fault. I'm not meaning to cast aspersions on the findings. I'm just asking if there is a step missing that, I fear, will be crucial to stopping this in the future.

Let me give an example of what I'm talking about. You might remember Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords campaign rally a few weeks ago in which a deeply disturbed gentlemen named Jared Laughner brought guns to the event and ended up shooting people. In my opinion, the same step was missed in this. We quickly moved from what happened to who was at fault. Liberals blamed Sarah Palin for putting a gun sight over Giffford's district. Conservatives responded that there was no proof that Laughner even knew about the sight and that he was just crazy. In the end, it seemed as though the rush to blame someone made us miss a crucial point. There is a lot of gun violence perpetuated in this country by people like laughner, people who are diagnosed bipolar or schizophrenic. I feel like we missed a chance to look at the amount of violence done by people who suffer from this mysterious illness and see if we should restrict gun sales to them. I can think of two instances in my own life in which which someone with bipolar disorder has killed someone else because voices in their head were telling them to do so. But, if we just focus on who is at fault in this particular situation, we miss the opportunity to stop it the next time.

So how is that related to this? If I understand things correctly, part of the way Jerry Sandusky was able to abuse kids was by befriending at-risk kids. These are the kids that the rest of us would prefer not to have to deal with. They misbehave in school and cause headaches for their teachers. You always wonder where their parents are and why they are skateboarding on your front steps instead of at their own. These are the kids that break your windows with rocks because they are bored and then lie to you about it when you confront them. These are the "bad kids." This scumbag, Sandusky, took these kids and made them disappear into what appeared to be something good: a mentoring program. They were out of sight and someone else's problem. He then used what I've come to understand as typical abusive psychological manipulation techniques to get these kids to trust him enough so that he could do almost anything to them. It's eerily similar to what a priest I knew seems to have done to kids who were at risk. In the rush to blame, we can't miss the lesson we need to learn: We need to have greater monitoring and accountability in these mentoring types of relationships, especially for at-risk kids. I imagine that, for the most part, these programs are totally on the up and up and do immeasurably great things for the kids that participate in them. But there needs to be a way so that someone who is in the program to abuse children cannot have the opportunity to do so. We can't just trust that the guy who is getting rid of the problem children is doing it for the right reasons. There's just too much room for abuse to take place.

The rush to blame someone is really a way of putting the problem behind us. It centers the problem in someone and removes us from finding the thing that is behind the problem. In some ways, it stops us from getting overwhelmed at all the solutions to problems we need to implement. But it really doesn't help the poor troubled kid who was just befriended by a coach, boy scout leader, or priest from being sexually abused. Only by seeking the root of the problem and dealing with that will we ever be able to fix it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Fides ET Ratio

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you had never entered a church before in your life and most of your friends had never entered a church before but your only experience of believers was off the TV, what would be your perception of church going people? I imagine the perception would be that most of us are simpletons. Think of the character Net on the Television show The Simpsons. He’s a geeky guy with a whiney, high-pitched voice who uses phrases like, “Son of a Didley” instead of swearing. But, Ned also supports his church and his minister and is always willing to give a helpful hand to his neighbors, the Simpsons, even though they seem to always accept his help and then take advantage of his generosity. In many ways, he’s the definition of a simpleton.

There was a time when a religious person would have been portrayed very differently. Recently, I’ve had a chance to watch the shows Going My Way with Bing Crosby and The Trouble with Angels with Jane Russel and Haley Mills. These shows from a bygone era show priests and nuns and religion in general as a place for intelligent and moral people. In fact, the whole point of those movies seemed to be that wise people affiliated themselves with religion while the dregs of society who cared only for themselves fought against it. Today, it seems like you have to shut off your brain to believe in God, or at least that’s the way Hollywood would have you believe. I’m afraid we’ve confused something very fundamental, something that makes us different than most Protestant denominations. In fact, the confusion is so widespread that even some priests get confused about it. The confusion centers around the idea of faith. Some believe that faith is a “best guess scenario.” It’s something an individual has to guess at. You look around in search for proof and, when you can’t find any, you make a “leap of faith.” The only think you can trust is the Bible or, as they may say it, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

For Catholics, faith and wisdom are inseparable. If our faith contradicts wisdom, then one must be in need of a new appropriation. But it must be authentic wisdom not the kind that was praised in the first reading today, which I call knowledge not wisdom. One can have knowledge but not be wise. Think of the professor that knows everything about the way the Universe works but would likely leave for work without wearing pants if a loving spouse didn’t lay them out each day. Or the sports figure who knows everything about the game of football or baseball but couldn’t put together a grammatically correct sentence if Ms. Manners had a gun to his head. These folks have knowledge but not wisdom.

A wise person grapples with difficult questions and is never satisfied with simple answers. She or he realizes that atheism is true futility, true foolishness. Instead, a wise person opens herself or himself up to the possibility that there is a God and then tries to get into a relationship with him. They look at the Bible as a helpful tool that tells us about our ancestor’s relationship to God but they also recognize it’s not a purely historical document. They live life differently that those who do not believe in God, as a consequence. They live life as though Christ could come tomorrow. Indeed, they live as though Christ could come right now and we’d be prepared. That means that we show love to our neighbors, especially those who are oppressed. We live life in order to reach out to those who are not wise in order to let them know where true wisdom resides, in the heart of Christ.

True wisdom is built on vigilantly waiting for God, which is why Hollywood has it so wrong. It’s not we who believe and patiently wait for Christ’s return who are simple. It’s those who give up on God like the five foolish bridegrooms in the gospel who are simple. We who have the faith, hope, and love of Christ and await his return in glory are the truly wise ones. Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.