Last year, while we were visiting churches in California, I contacted an old school friend about the possibility of joining her for church. From her Facebook posts I figured she was still interested in spiritual things.
She replied that she and her husband no longer attended church, and it was because of the scandals. She was Catholic, so I knew she meant the incidents of pedophilia that came to light in the last fifteen years. She was far from the only person I've heard mention those truly horrible episodes as the reason they quit attending church. In the face of such evil and hypocrisy, how could anyone continue to support such an institution?
This last week, Mindy and I spent time with friends who were quite aware -- in fact, were witnesses to many abuses of authority by the Catholic clergy back in the day -- and yet continue to support and love the church. I greatly appreciated hearing their story.
Julie Buchanan was a good friend of my brother's but also a friend of mine back at Piner High School. Her husband, Dan, was the brother of classmates of ours. They graciously hosted us for our stay in Dripping Springs, near Austin, Texas. At a local hangout, The Barber Shop, Dan shared with me his experience with the Church, the Lord, and forgiveness.
Dan grew up in a family committed to the Catholic Church. His drill sergeant father, a man of great faith, made sure that they were there every Sunday, but Dan hadn't internalized that faith growing up. When Dan was eighteen, he went to a Catholic charismatic renewal meeting at a church in Santa Rosa where he heard the Word and felt changed by God's grace. There was an altar call and he was the first to go forward.
The change in his life was dramatic, and he sold all that he had to join the priest leading the meeting to go and minister in Wisconsin. Dan helped lead worship, playing the guitar at the meetings on the trip. He had a wonderful time. Returning to California, Dan stayed with the priest. One night the priest asked Dan to join him on his bed. The priest didn't make an explicit proposition, but... Dan didn't join him and returned to Santa Rosa.
The priests in Dan's local parish thought Dan was destined for the priesthood himself, and they encouraged him to pursue the calling. But Dan continued to see things that just weren't right. He lived in a house with another priest who brought a series of young women to his room. The door was closed, so he never knew what went on, but...
Dan's parents had always put the clergy on a pedestal, but for Dan the pedestal had been kicked away. He began to feel that perhaps his faith was a farce. He went through a dark time of questioning.
After Dan married Julie, obviously the becoming a priest option for Danny was gone, but Dan and Julie remained active in the church. Sadly, episodes of clerical misconduct conduct continued as well. The most severe blow was when Dan learned that someone very close to him had been sexually abused by a priest. They raised their family, changing parishes, and continued to seek God's truth in scriptures and the Church.
Many years later, Dan again experienced great spiritual darkness and considered chucking it all. He went off on a retreat, where a spiritual mentor suggested meditating on a prayer, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, focusing on Christ's sacrifice. As Dan prayed he asked God, "Where are you now?"
It was then Dan felt God's grace fall upon Him. He heard the words, "I'm still here." He felt God take from him the hurt that had built up through the years. He felt God tell him to go home and love his family.
Dan said he's come to realized that in God's eyes the clergy are no more sacred than garbage collectors and just as susceptible to sin. Jesus called the religious leaders of His time "whitewashed tombs" but the sins of those men didn't invalidate the teaching of the Law and the Prophets. Dan still accepts the teaching of the church as true, even if many of the teachers are flawed.
Dan and Julie are, in fact, quite active at Saint Catherine of Siena in Austin. They are sponsors in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), a program in the church that teaches Catholic doctrine and practice to adults and brings them into the Body.
The morning we attended Mass with them, Julie was reading the Scripture for the service. The church conducts six masses every weekend with a different reader for each. Those readers meet every week to study the Scripture they will read in the upcoming weekend.
Dan and Julie spoke fondly of their parish priest, Father Pat, and his assistant, Father Ray. But Father Ray was home visiting family in India, and parish policy doesn't allow a priest to lead more than three masses on a weekend, so we heard a homily by Father Charlie, a priest in his eighties, who has been quite active in prison ministries.
Father Charlie has the cadence of a Southern Baptist radio preacher and a love of acronyms (LOVE - Live On Victoriously Eternally, GOD - Good Orderly Direction, JOY - Jesus, Others, Yourself, etc.) Though Julie and Dan admitted they had heard Father Charlie preach many of the same things before, they expressed admiration for the man's love and faithfulness.
I asked Dan what he would say to those who have quit going to church because they can't forgive the actions of the Catholic clergy, particularly the incidents of abuse of children. He said he would tell them to repeat the "Our Father," meditating on every word, and have them concentrate on the passage on forgiveness. "We can't hold a grudge or pass judgment on others. When we do, we put a wall up between ourselves and God."
It was a pleasure and honor to see Dan and Julie's faithfulness in serving at St. Catherine's and even more of a privilege to see their devotion to the God of children, fallen priests and garbage collectors.
Post Script: Due to the nature of Dan's story, we ask Dan and Julie to look this over before we put it up. We used their input to make a couple of deletions and clarifications, and I'll let Dan wrap things up with an excerpt from his recent e-mail. "We forgive others even when they do not deserve our forgiveness. That is being Christ's presence in this world and prepares us for eternity."
Service Length: 1 hour 10 minutes
Sermon Length: 12 minutes
Visitor Treatment: There was a greeting time after the choir sang a prelude as well as the passing of the peace later in the service. Although there was mention of a visitor's form on the website or in back of the church, we didn't see it
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 386
Probable Ushers' Count: 420
Musicians: choir of 9 women, 4 men (including choir director) with piano accompaniment. There was also a male cantor
Songs: Lord, Make me an Instrument of Thy Peace (choir)
Lift up your Hearts
Glory to God in the Highest
Lord, when You Came/Pescador de Hombres
The Lord be with you (chant)
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts
Five-fold Amen (response)
Lamb of God
Be Still my Heart (choir)
We are Many Parts/Muchos Miembres
Miles to church: 10
Miles from start: 2,028
Total 2016 Miles: 3,983
Church website: http://stcatherine-austin.org/