Upon These Rocks

The photo above was taken exactly one year ago. It was the first picture in a photo album/memory book that one of the pilgrims created and sent to Bishop Malone after the Ireland Pilgrimage he led last October. I’d never seen the photo before viewing the book and hardly remembered the photo being taken. But then I recalled that someone had gotten a photo of the Bishop and me as we were walking down from the Rock of Cashel after our group tour.

Rock of Cashel actual


The Rock of Cashel in Tipperary is one of the most famous sites in Ireland. “Cashel” is an Anglicized version of the Gaelic “caiseal,” which means fortress (similar to the English “castle” as you may have surmised.) Amidst the gorgeous green countryside, this massive edifice rises up and gives you a powerful sense of its former glory. The grounds include a round tower, 13th-century Gothic cathedral and a 12th-century Romanesque chapel that houses stunning frescoes. The Rock of Cashel is also known as St. Patrick’s Rock since legend holds that the greatest Irish saint visited Cashel to baptize King Aengus, Ireland’s first Christian ruler.

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Our pilgrimage also brought us to a rock of a much more humble nature. The Rock of Cashel may boast historical and architectural significance, but this other rock is an even greater treasure. On our way to the Marian Shrine at Knock, our group stopped by Tobernalt, a holy well in Sligo. Tobernalt is translated as “the well in the cliff” and as these photos illustrate, that is an apt name for the spot. In addition to the natural spring well that is renowned for its curative powers, Tobernalt is also known for its Mass Rock.

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During the penal days in Ireland, Catholics were not able to attend Mass publicly due to persecution from the British. Thus the priests and people looked for hidden areas where Mass could be celebrated on a large rock. Tobernalt was an ideal secluded spot at which to celebrate a clandestine Mass. In those days, priests were hunted men with a price on their heads. Traveling in disguise, these brave priests journeyed from one Mass rock to the next in order to bring the sacraments to the Irish people. While Mass was celebrated, sentinels kept close watch from nearby look-outs in order to prevent any surprise attacks by British soldiers.

Everyone at such a Mass was there at great personal risk. At that time, anyone found participating in any form of Catholic worship was subject to extreme fines and/or imprisonment. For priests, the penalty was much more severe – they would pay with their lives. Can you imagine celebrating such a Mass or attending it? You were risking either your life or your livelihood to be there. You did not know if you would ever celebrate or attend another Mass. What reverence, adoration and love must have marked such a Mass!

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When you arrive at Tobernalt, you are greeted by the sign shown above. It reads:

Pilgrim walk softly, this is holy ground.
It has been made holy by the feet of generations
Who came here to worship God,
To hear Mass, to honor Our Lady,
To pray for their needs and for peace.
Here are the memories of a poor, persecuted people.
They braved death to come.
They walked barefoot through the woods to worship in secret.
Here are memories of hunted priests,
Offering Mass in this hallowed place at risk of their lives.

Will their sufferings and sacrifices be in vain?
They have handed on a torch – let us keep that torch alight!

The very thought of Tobernalt brings tears to my eyes. It is humbling to consider the faith of my ancestors. How very weak is my faith in comparison! They were willing to sacrifice everything in order to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Theirs was an heroic faith.

Then too I consider the hunted priests, who brought Jesus to these persecuted Catholics all across the Irish countryside. Talk about heroes! A sizable bounty was on their heads and a horrible fate awaited them if they were captured: they’d be hung until almost dead before their torsos were sliced and disemboweled. Finally they would be beheaded. If a priest was found while being sheltered by Catholics, the people would be hung alongside the priest they had harbored.

Such was the harsh reality for Catholics in 17th century Ireland. For us Catholics in 21st century America, it is hard to fathom such unbelievable circumstances. Yet we the clergy and laity of 2018 profess the very same faith as the priests and people of the Mass Rocks. They were willing to die for their faith. Are we willing to live for it?

As much as we know our hierarchy and clergy need to be reformed and renewed, we the laity have need of such renewal as well. We are all called to holiness in the particular circumstances of our lives. While we respectfully challenge our clerical leaders, we must also challenge ourselves. Our faith calls us to greatness – how will we answer that call?

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The gates of hell seem perilously close these days, but they must have seemed even closer to the Catholics of 17th century Ireland. They practiced their faith despite incredible persecution. May we, the Catholics of early 21st century America, live out our faith with similar fortitude, gratitude and courage.

They have handed on a torch – let us keep that torch alight!

Miss Understood

Arachnophobia.

Aichmophobia.

Hemaphobia.

Anelkystirasphobia.

These are the technical names of four fears I used to have. I got over the first one when my memories of the movie by that name mercifully began to fade. The second and third ones I conquered because needles and blood are non-negotiable elements of blood/platelet donation, which I am now happily able to do. The last one I overcame because I prefer to get my exercise amidst the beauty of nature rather than climbing stairwells in an attempt to avoid elevators.

Lest you think I’m fear-free, I want to talk about a remaining fear that has proven much harder to eradicate: the fear of being misunderstood. This fear came to the forefront a month ago when my whistleblower identity was revealed and I began speaking publicly for the first time. I was able to speak freely because I had nothing to hide and was simply a messenger of the truth, but soon learned that people could and would misunderstand me. People attributed ulterior motives to my actions, ascribed meanings to my words that I did not intend, and took my remarks out of context.

This proved a challenging experience for me especially since I soon learned there was little I could do to combat the problem. I couldn’t very well issue a stream of statements that amounted to “That’s not what I meant!” When Bishop Malone issued his statement comprised of my prior emails to him, it was very tempting to respond with a detailed defense explaining what I was thinking as I wrote each of those messages. I quickly decided against that for two reasons: first, this isn’t about me and second, I knew by then that even my explanations could be misunderstood. I would just end up clarifying my clarifications.

In the weeks since, I’ve devoted much time and prayer to fighting this fear of mine. While I can’t say it has been eradicated, I’m much better off than I was this time last month. I have come to realize that my fear of being misunderstood is in many ways associated with the perfectionism I’ve endeavored to keep at bay since struggling with it during childhood and adolescence. In addition, I recognize that I care so deeply about the matter at hand that any misunderstanding is amplified in my mind because of the significance of the issue. Most importantly, I discovered the best remedies for this fear: humility and trust.

It is humbling to have your words, motives or actions misunderstood. You instinctively want to defend yourself. As a lifelong logophile, I also want to defend my words and offer any needed clarity. It is quite humbling to accept misunderstandings and move on. In doing so, you have to entrust any misunderstanding to God. The Creator of my heart knows its depths far better than I ever could. He therefore knows full well the intentions and motives behind my words and actions. This passage from Proverbs is especially comforting right now: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and He will make straight your paths.” Just as I must not lean on my own understanding, I likewise cannot focus on others’ misunderstanding. The Lord who can make straight my paths can certainly make the most of a misunderstanding. 

These lines from Saint Francis’ beautiful prayer are ones that I repeat often at this time:

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be understood, as to understand!

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P.S. Best name for the “fear of being misunderstood” that I can come up with is parexigisiphobia, which is a spelling bee word if I ever saw one.

 

Confessions of a Catholic Whistleblower

Deeply grateful to First Things for the opportunity to share my story with their readership. I used to enjoy reading their publication when it would arrive at Bishop Malone’s office when he was out of town and wouldn’t miss it if I read through it first. Another surreal experience to have now written a piece for their journal!

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/11/confessions-of-a-catholic-whistleblower

Yet Another Distressing Report

CBS’s Eye on America news program revealed: “Head of U.S. Catholic bishops kept 2 priests accused of abuse in active ministry. ”

Excerpt:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, making him one of the most powerful Catholic officials in the country. He has also been one of the most vocal critics of the church’s handling of its sex abuse scandal.

But this summer, Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, a priest whom DiNardo had promoted, was arrested for allegedly molesting two children. DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston since 2006, has vowed to release by January a list of all the priests in Houston who have been, in the church’s judgment, “credibly accused” of sexually abusing a child.

Now, a CBS News investigation has uncovered a lack of action by DiNardo in handling sex abuse allegations in his own archdiocese.

CNA follows up with Cardinal DiNardo’s expected denial stating the cases weren’t judged credible.

Can’t even express how distressing this report is. God help us.

H/t Charlie Specht

Sheep without shepherds

Hopefully you have a “free read” available for the New York Times because this piece is worth a read. This is indeed a test of our faith… may God preserve our greatest treasure!

[image source above: Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews, “How US bishops should have responded to Vatican hijacking their meeting on abuse crisis.” 16 Nov. 2018.]

Complicit

What a flabbergasting response from Bishop Malone to this question from Jay Tokasz (full interview here).

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We have to “find out” what being complicit means?! Dictionaries are such a great way to “find out” what words mean. The Oxford English Dictionary informs us that complicit means: “Involved with others in an activity that is unlawful or morally wrong.” I submit that it is morally wrong to cover up the abuse of young men by a pastor upon whom you heap adulation and refuse to remove from ministry. I would likewise posit that it is morally wrong to lie to a victim of said priest by telling the young man that he is the priest’s only victim when you know full well that is not true.

Is it not “grave matter” when a predatory priest sexually assaults a young man? What difference does it make if the young man is 14 or 24? Why is it that clerical abuse is no longer “grave” once the magic “Charter age” of 18 is surpassed?

What “clarity” and “specificity” could you possible need, Bishop Malone, regarding the abuse of young adults? Shouldn’t the abuse of ANY of God’s people be a grave matter? Was not Christ clear enough when He said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you?” Bishop Malone – what if you were 20 years old and went to a priest for spiritual counsel and he tried to get you drunk and assault you? Would that be a grave matter? Or would there not be enough “clarity” and “specificity” for such gravity to be determined?

And do not get me started on seminarians abused by a priest who was supposed to mentor and support them. I can be VERY clear and specific about those circumstances.

For now, let me be clear and specific as follows:

Bishop Malone – you were complicit. It is grave matter. Stop equivocating.

Thank you, Bishop Shawn McKnight!

There have been so many times recently when I’ve “had no words” in the negative sense of that expression. This piece by Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City has left me wordless in grateful awe.

Among many amazing lines, these might be my favorite:

There doesn’t have to be a formal and long, drawn out investigation for a bishop to exercise a little compunction and concern for the well-being of the whole Church. An independent and transparent investigation is all the more necessary when culpable hierarchs exhibit an incapacity to do the right thing on their own. The laity are the only ones who can keep the hierarchy accountable and get us out of the mess we bishops got ourselves into.

HE GETS IT. God bless you, Bishop McKnight!!