Brokenhearted over Abuse Scandal

Lisa Brenninkmeyer
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My heart has been so heavy.

What started as a normal day was sideswiped by news that was not new, but nevertheless dredged up feelings of deep sadness. When the latest New York Times article broke chronicling sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I don’t think any of us were surprised that more has come to light and that it is still an issue. These wounds are deep– they go to the level of the soul– and the confession of sin and unearthing of stories of unspeakable pain will no doubt continue to come to light as people find the courage to speak out.

But the way I heard about it– with friends bursting in to my office and looking at me as a part of it– as a part of “the institution” because of my role at Walking with Purpose– perhaps that was new. As they spoke with anger and disgust, I felt shame. This may seem strange, since I have never personally been involved in this scandal. But because it involves my family, my faith family, I do not feel a disconnect or a lack of personal responsibility.

It’s led me to think about the prophet Daniel. There’s an interesting part of his story, recorded in Daniel 9. In it, he turned to the Lord, and pleaded with Him in prayer and fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes– an outward sign of inward grief. He prayed, “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws…Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame…”. He said “we,” yet any reading of his story confirms that no one was more righteous than Daniel. But he stood with his people and confessed their collective sin.

I don’t want to make any justifications for the behavior of people who have been given the tremendous privilege of representing Jesus to us all. There are no excuses. But nor do I place myself on a higher pedestal, pointing to them as the biggest sinners and myself as the offended and saddened.

Because here is the truth– my sin– their sin– it all matters. Our witness to a watching world has everything to do with our integrity and holiness. I want to point the finger and say their sin is worse than mine. Yet I know too well the wrestling that went on in my heart just yesterday- sitting at Mass and feeling God convict me of the bitterroot that was growing in my heart toward a loved one. God pointed out my sin, and I was so tempted to just ignore Him, to minimize the importance of this small compromise within my heart. I remember thinking, “Does it really matter that I be that serious about my holiness? Every little thought? Does God seriously care that much?”

Today, I see it clear as day.

Yes.

As a leader, yes.

As a mother, yes.

As a bearer of the name Christian, yes.

It all matters. Our holiness in matters big and small is so critical and there is no grey zone. There is no area where we get to play around with integrity.

National attention has turned to the Catholic Church as the sexual abuse scandal remains in the spotlight. But may we never forget, we are being observed. Our children, our neighbors, our friends and family are watching us. What do they see? Compromise? Or radical holiness and self-sacrificing love? Each word, each action, each attitude– it all matters. We are witnesses of who Jesus is– His ambassadors– and it is critical that who we are, to the core of our being, is consistent with who He is.

On my knees…in confession…with humility…yet still filled with hope that even with our collective brokenness, we can still show Jesus to the watching world.

With love,

Lisa