The day after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, I went to morning Mass. I arrived to a full parking lot, walking into the church just before the priest processed down the aisle. If you’ve ever attended daily Mass at a parish, you’ll understand the shock I felt as I was forced to squeeze myself into a space barely big enough for my handbag. More room could be found in the pews on a Sunday. In the few remaining seconds before the priest began, I looked around at all of the people and wondered at the beauty that is born out of communal pain.
When horror or sadness strikes our lives, it unmoors us. We float through the days, no longer anchored to our daily routine. Sadness has uprooted us, allowing us to move through grief at our own necessarily unique pace, but also leaving us with a feeling of disconnection and loss. Each time this happens in my life, I find myself turning towards God, willingly or not, to seek solace in God’s presence.
After September 11, I went to church seeking God in the Eucharist. What I didn’t expect was to also find God in the people. For that brief hour, I no longer felt unmoored, instead grieving with those around me, many of them strangers, together on our raft of faith.
Last week, my parish priest died and I became unmoored once again.
When a family member dies, you travel to your people. You plan the funeral and gather around the table to share stories of the loved one lost. Our priest wasn’t actually family to any of us, but he was also family to every single one of us, the Father of our parish.
We were left to grieve alone in our respective homes. We were, all of us, unmoored, with no central place to gather, nowhere to tell stories, nowhere to join together, and so we felt alone in our sorrow. It wasn’t until the Vigil service prior to his funeral that our community finally came together. That evening, our shared tears fell, uniting us and cleansing us as we bravely took one more step towards living without one who loved so well.
In times of great sorrow, joining together in solidarity begins the slow process of healing our pain. We are created for one another, to care for one another and to be there for one another. As St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us, “we belong to each other.”
Our parish community was able to grieve for the loss of a great priest and a great friend who taught us, time and again, that God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good. Sometime in the future, our hearts will heal, but while the sorrow is still fresh, we are left dealing with another reason to grieve, this one felt by all Catholics, especially those in Pennsylvania.
Unlike September 11, and unlike the death of a loved one, the church has not yet provided us with a collective chance to mourn what is lost. Instead, we have been asked to push forward, with assurances that this abuse will not happen again. I understand the desire for action and for calming words, but I am still grieving the loss of a church hierarchy I trusted.
Across the country, we need priests at Mass acknowledging the pain felt by members of our community so that, unified, we can move forward. We need to grieve together, and then we need to work for change.
Pope Francis recently called us to pray and to fast. Guided by scripture, prayer and fasting enables us to focus on what is most important, allowing us to grow closer to God. He also recently stated that we must join together in “a solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption.”*
For this reason, I am willing and ready to enter into prayer and fasting. I appreciate that Pope Francis did not tell us how or when to fast, instead allowing us to choose when we are ready and to choose the way of fasting that brings us closer to God. I hope, though, that we find a way to join together in prayer for this necessary healing and action.
One day prior to our priest’s death, our community chose to gather together to pray a rosary for peace for our beloved priest. Reminiscent of that day after 9/11, I arrived at church, outside of the typical Sunday Mass time, and was surprised by the number of cars in the parking lot. Again, I struggled to find a parking spot, and again, I walked into the church just seconds before the rosary began, this time unsuccessful at finding a place to sit. Again, I looked around wondering at the beauty that is born out of communal pain. I never wanted the rosary to end. This is the church I love.
Praying together is the healing we need. Praying together and acting as one can ensure these evils do not overtake our church again. At the Pope’s calling, I will fast, but not from food, from indifference. I will do my best to move my individual prayer time back into communal prayer time, seeking comfort with others on our raft of faith. We can and will be the change the church needs. We can and will be the body that Christ deserves.