After my siblings and my first year of life, our parents assigned an adjective to us that best described our first 12 months. I was good, my sister happy and my brother content. I’ve always thought this was a very creative idea of my parents.
This concept came to mind as I’ve been pondering the past year as it mercifully comes to an end. What adjective would I assign to 2018? Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad… oh wait, that’s a children’s book title.
2018 began innocently enough but was not even two months old when the darkness began to emerge here in the Diocese of Buffalo. March, April and May were especially dark months for our diocese, but by summer’s end, our national and global Church were facing the same storm of scandal and tragedy. This has been an incredibly painful year for Catholics in Buffalo, the United States and across the globe. It has been emotionally, physiologically and spiritually exhausting.
If I had to choose just one word to describe this infamous year, I would call it the Year of Upheaval. On a personal level, this description definitely works. During the course of 2018, I had 3 jobs, moved 3 times, lived in 4 homes, leaked hundreds of documents and appeared on TV numerous times. For a naturally private person who didn’t even have a Facebook account before this started, it was a jarring change to my normal existence. Upheaval is defined as “a violent or sudden change or disruption to something.” My life has absolutely changed and I still feel that disruption keenly. Yet the challenges I’ve faced are so many ounces to the oceans of suffering endured by the survivors.
On the national and global level, the Catholic Church experienced great upheaval this past year. We Catholics are still reeling from the seismic shock of learning that the clerical abuse scandal of the early aughts was not a thing of the past, but an ongoing crisis. This CNN article gives an excellent (albeit nauseating) month-by-month explanation of the many upheavals of 2018. It is staggering to review the year and realize the many facets of this global scandal.
This has been the worst year of my life. Other years might have been in contention for a few months, but by May they were out of the running for that ignoble title. Yet amidst this year of dark distress, there was still good to be found. Here are the best things about my worst year:
1. I’m still a practicing Catholic. Thank you, Lord.
2. I was able to do something for the victim-survivors, who matter so very much to me, and for the Church that I love.
3. I’ve learned the painful yet valuable lesson of who my true friends are while gaining wonderful new friends.
4. I still believe that there is more good than bad in the world, but I’ve learned that sometimes the bad is where you thought the good was.
5. I have an enduring peace of soul that defies explanation.
All that is good comes from our gracious and loving God. With all my heart, I thank Him for these good things that penetrated the darkness of this difficult year.
In this photo from the crypt of the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, Christ steps out of the darkness with His hands stretched out towards us. I love how this image contrasts His light with the surrounding darkness. Christ’s face is pained as is His Sacred Heart. Long ago in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew that one day the descendants of His followers would hurt and harm the little ones He loves so much. He knew that the Church He founded would be run like a corporation within a few millennia. He knew that in 2018 His people would be suffering in mind, heart and soul. He anticipated the pain of victim survivors and their loved ones. No wonder he experienced hematohidrosis there in the Garden!
Jesus well knew how ugly, evil and horrible humanity would be across the ages and yet he willingly died for us after establishing the Church through which we were to follow Him and His teachings. Let us unite our broken hearts to His and offer our own yes in response: Yes, Lord, I will follow you. Through the darkness, the turmoil, the pain and the upheaval. I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life even if my way forward is unclear, the truth came at a cost and my life is still unsettled.
During the unsettling months of 2018, a much-listened-to song became a prayer as well. Abide with Me is a hymn written in Scotland in the 1840’s which draws inspiration from this line in Luke where the apostles address Christ: “Abide with us for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.” You can read the lyrics of this hymn below or listen to it sung with haunting beauty by Audrey Assad here.
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if Thou abide with me
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me
Abide with me, abide with me.
The most poignant line for me is: “O Though who changest not, abide with me.” During this year of such upheaval and so many changes, God was with us. As we cross the threshold of a new year, He will remain by our sides. Abide with us, Lord, and help us never to lose our trust in You. You gave your life for us. May we live our lives for you.