Betty Duffy

Friday, May 25, 2012


There's a retired priest in our town, who travels to the different parishes when a Pastor is off duty. I was sitting in a pew, wrestling a three-year-old before Mass one day, when I saw this particular priest in the Sacristy putting on his vestments. My stomach lurched because I knew then that Mass would take a very long time. He always gives a rambling 45-minute homily. He also cries, every. single. time. he reads the Gospel.

It wasn't too late to drive three miles over to the other Parish in town. I'd only be a few minutes late getting there. But I felt this guilty sensation: what if scads of people escaped to other Parishes every time I showed myself in Church?

I stayed.

During the Gospel, as ordained, Father cried when Jesus said, "One of you will betray me," and Judas dipped his morsel in the cup with Jesus. For some reason, on this day, the tears touched me. It was sad that Judas would betray Jesus, and that Jesus knew it, and Judas knew it, but that no one would stop it. It was sad that Judas would condemn his own soul as a result.

During the homily, Father let us know that it was the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He thanked us for celebrating with him. He recalled his baptism. He recalled his time in the Seminary, and how during a homiletics course, his professor chastised him for using the term, "we sinners" in a homily, saying, "Never, ever, admit from the pulpit that you are a sinner."

"My teacher was a very good and holy man who did much good for the Church," said the retired priest, "but that is the one lesson I learned in Seminary with which I have never agreed. Just as the Gospel points out today, good and evil have always existed side by side in every man, but Christ."

In the wake of Father Thomas D Williams's revelation that he fathered a child during his priesthood, there have been a few blog posts going around that insist, it is ok to feel outrage about this situation. It's not uncharitable to discuss the scandal, and we have a right to our feelings of anger about it.

To which I say, thank you for the permission to feel outrage. But not only do I not need another charismatic leader telling me how to function, the feeling of outrage at other people's sins seems too easy to be the right response.

I recognize that many of these posts come from people who have had ties in the past to Regnum Christi or the Legion, and so they are used to being told that they should not discuss the failings they see in others.

I have to admit, that the sense of charity offered to others, assuming the best of people, even though it contributed to a culture of silence, is something I miss from my RC days.

At the time, it bothered me that I couldn't go into the dorms with another co-worker and complain about the Consecrated lady whose heavy footfall in the hallway always meant that she was coming to ask: "Can you do me a favor?" She had so many favors to ask, and I just wanted to point it out to someone--"Have you noticed she always asks for favors, and they're always totally easy things she could do for herself? Isn't that annoying?

I could not wait to point out that the emperor had no clothes. She acted holy but she wasn't. I could recognize it, and all that was left for me to do was to say it out loud to someone, so we could feel mutual annoyance, and experience a bond. Keeping my feelings to myself was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

In the internet age, there are many, many watchdogs waiting to point out that the emperor has no clothes. It's good, I suppose, that people, especially priests, aren't getting away with tough sins. And it's definitely good that they no longer get away with crimes--but what surprises me about all this information is that it doesn't feel as good to dwell on it as I thought it would feel.

I want to feel outrage. My gut instinct says OUTRAGE! But, there's a still small voice that says, Lord, protect me from the kind of thinking that says, I would never do that. I would never be unfaithful to my vocation. I would never deceive people who believed in me. I would never maintain the office of speaking for the faith when my private life was such a mess. What a Judas-y thing to do.

The problem with thinking that way is that it's A.) not accurate, and B.) it distracts me from the outrage I should feel for my own failings. In different circumstances, with a different psychology, I have been unfaithful. I have been deceptive.

Do I feel outrage about the time I hid the receipt for an online purchase until the evidence was on my doorstep?  Am I outraged about my pride? About trying to control people? About not praying? About my out-of-control anger? About giving less than I can to the poor? About being uncharitable in my thoughts towards good and faithful priests who happen to test my patience?

Good and evil do exist side by side in every man, so even if the circumstances of my life prohibit me from committing the exact sin that Father Thomas, or even Maciel committed, sins of public duplicity, of taking advantage of people's trust and good intention, of abuse, it is equally outrageous that I betray my own vocation in the ways that are particular to my own life.

Saint Paul says that if we must boast, we should boast of our own weakness, not of our astute ability to identify other people's sins. We could spend our whole lives cataloguing their sins, and never run out of things with which to be outraged (They use NFP selfishly. They have disordered sexual desires...). It's exhausting to think about.

When I consider my own weakness, the truth is that I don't feel outrage about my sin. If I'm able to silence the justifying reasons why I behaved the way I did for long enough to make a good confession, underneath I feel sadness and disappointment at my own Judas-y behavior, followed by tearful relief at God's mercy.

Poor Jesus gives his life for all of humanity, but can't even find twelve good men to eat at his table for his last meal. Judas betrays him. Peter denies him, and thousands of years in the future, priests continue to behave badly, and people keep ignoring their own sins, saying, Thank God I am not like them.

I no longer think that charity entails pretending that other people's faults don't exist, but it does seem to involve extending the same gentleness to others that I extend to myself.

I don't think that what Father Thomas did is excusable, but it is forgivable, and when I imagine that God has already forgiven him, which is most likely the case, maintaining any kind of personal outrage becomes too much labor. Rather, tears seem more appropriate.

It's no wonder the old priest in my town cries at the Word of God. Maybe tears are the only thing that make sense in response to the tragedy of human failing, and Christ's outrageous mercy.


Lizzie said...

Beautiful reflection Betty. Recently, I've been learning that tears are definitely the best option rather than any rage or anger...I imagine Christ weeping too for the sin he sees.
Now, as a parent, I see that sin hurts God because of the very fact it hurts us and stops us from living the full life God intends for us. That's why I get upset when my son sins...

The Cottage Child said...

Thank you for this - you didn't mean for it to, but it served as a pep talk - I'm currently enduring the outrage of someone for whom I'd just as soon return the same, count their sins for them, and put them on display for all to be horrified by... as much as it kills me to be quiet (gossip, much?), in the cost benefit analysis, I lose bigger by not letting it lie where it is. Instead I'll focus on my own obedience, which is lacking enough to draw more than a few tears.

Theresa said...

My deepest most sincerest Thanks.

MrsDarwin said...

God bless your old priest.

Harmony said...

Betty, I'm not Catholic and I rarely post comments anywhere online, but I read every post you write because you resonate with me so deeply. This post, though, it moved me to tears and I just wanted to offer you thanks. The beauty of Christ comes through these words and they ministered to me deeply.

Erin said...

I don't know how to respond except... YES! Thank you.

Jocelyne said...

Thank you for this. It reminds of something my Grandmama always said when people started talking about other people's sins: "À tout péché, miséricorde." For every sin, there is mercy.

nancyo said...

Beautiful post. I think of Christ in the Garden, taking on all of our sins, mine included, and how he sweat blood.

wifemotherexpletive said...

in praise of weeping, i am. thanks for writing this, a strong reminder to me about my own misplaced outrages. blugh.

claire said...

Awesome post. And I have to say that I admire the fact that a priest who has been reading the gospel for 50 years is still moved to tears by it.

Anne said...

Thank you for this. It is a much needed lesson-I struggle deeply with letting go of the sins of others while letting my own sins slide by far too often excused. God bless you!

Kimberlie said...

Beautifully written and so true. Why feel outrage about others' sins but feel nothing for our own.

I have to admit, I am a little tired of the Body of Christ tearing each other apart just to feel themselves a better human being. Bleh, as someone else wrote. My sentiments.

Dayna and Tom said...

Thank you, Betty, for your beautiful insight!

I learned of Fr. Williams' transgressions while ordering one of his books and noticed a mean-spirited review. I hurt for Fr. Williams and all who are involved. After his second statement, which I believe might have been prepared for him by his "handlers," I became angry -- at the lying and the hypocrisy. I needed to read your blog to remember why I had originally felt compassion.

I am not Catholic, therefore I do have compassion for a man, who may have been very lonely, who fell in love and they had a child. I have frequently said that we see our own faults in others before we see them in ourselves. We have all made mistakes of which we need to be forgiven.

Christy from fountains of home said...

Beautiful insight!

Rage is so tiring! I know looking back from my past experiences holding onto rage and anger so much energy was wasted.

Annalea said...

I'm coming out of lurkdom to chime in. Thank you for such a beautiful post.

There is a story of missionaries, finding a chief among the American Indians long, long, long ago. After they taught him of Christ, of His goodness and mercy, and his lovingkindness toward all men, the chief pled with them to know how to reach for such peace and joy in his own heart. They taught the chief to pray, and he fell upon his knees and cried, from the depths of his soul, ". . . I will give away all my sins to know thee . . ."

That phrase often resounds in my heart, as my own ever-increasing understanding of my vast imperfections and deep weaknesses shows me just how much Christ loves me. Charity, I don't believe, cannot ever truly be cherished until we have some concept of our own weakness.

B.A. said...

I love this.

Caitlin said...

Thank you for your always beautiful insight.

BettyDuffy said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Karen Edmisten said...

Beautiful, Betty.

Clare said...

This is really beautiful.

It also hits very close to home for me--my mother is involved in Regnum Christi, as was I in my teens.
I admit that I am one of the people who demand a right to my outrage, although simply rage might be a better word. Rage at being manipulated, lied to, having my loyalty abused, at being taught to silence my concerns and gut instincts. I don't know if I would feel such rage if I hadn't been involved at such a formative time in my faith and personal life..all I know is that expressing anger at the Legion has been a bridge between me and my mother in our differences. She can listen to me tell me how betrayed I feel, how distrustful, and say nothing to invalidate those feelings; in turn, I feel safe enough to support her in the spiritual nourishment she continues to recieve from R.C.

Perhaps outrage is most healing when it's personal--when it's not about disgust with sin as much as admission of personal woundedness.

JMB said...

So much in this that I will think about, esp with judging others. BTW, my own bro the priest, not retired yet, but sometimes gives 45 min homilies at daily Mass, (ok exaggerating here) but my sister and I just eye roll.
Keep on keeping on!

Nayhee said...

Wonderful post. I realized recently that the only compelling reads are ones that begin and end with the Jesus Prayer, "Have mercy on me, a sinner." Preaching, sermonizing, homilizing---none of it sounds true unless it is inspired by contrition, and love.
Thanks again.