By Teresa Pitt Green, Co-Founder *
The Epiphany is a source of grace and understanding for Christians, particularly Catholics who are unsure about those of us abused by clergy. Here are three reasons why. Perhaps you’ll be inspired by this brief read to rethink how you relate to survivors of abuse who are struggling spiritually.
First, it can be difficult for survivors of abuse, especially clergy abuse, to engage in Christmas traditions. Associations with the past create a daunting impasse. Their strength varies from year to year, but when the pain of the past is close, a manger in the present can feel very far from reality.
Here is a manger with a vulnerable Child, barely clad, exposed in a barn, surrounded by strangers welcomed by parents. Between the Christmas invitation to draw close to this Child and the threshold on which a survivor stands deciding, paralysis can take hold as past blurs with present.
Do you know how to support the next few steps forward? If you did, you would better understand your own private hesitation, which we all have, at the threshold of faith in the Incarnation.
Second, survivors have a spider sense for sinister trickery. We have our dreams, and nightmares. For the Magi, dreams and wariness were trusted, as discernment of a king’s false face and an alert that a Child was in danger. For us, depending on the health care provider, these can mean diagnosis; e.g., paranoia or insomnia secondary to a mental illness.
Do you respect the mentally ill enough to know that not all voices we sense and not all fright we feel are maladaptive? They were, after all, reactions to things worthy of terror. While some of us need medicinal support, that’s not a license to discount the evil which life has shown us or to delegate our spiritual search to the therapeutic chair.
Do you know how to encourage someone in despair who is standing on the threshold of hope … who happens to have been diagnosed with a mental illness?
Do you know how to help anyone with mental illness discern the still small voice of God in speaking to them? If you did, your efforts at evangelism would be far more credible. And, not just to the mentally ill.
Last, and most importantly, here He is, as a Child in a manger, the very Incarnation of God. Love made Real. God made Man. Eucharist. Having gone without, we exiled strangers know too well the hunger and know better the treasure. That’s why many of us venture to shake a wobbly way across a threshold of a church somewhere, daring to return as strangers from spiritual exile.
There are many things that can be said about why we left, or stayed away, or what remains to be fixed, but when speaking of a stranger loitering at the threshold of the manger longing for the Lord, I’ll ask you this today: Could you relate to this stranger how the Church is safer now?
Do you know where to send a survivor of abuse, in particular child abuse by clergy, for spiritual sustenance (e.g., diocesan resources, or even this magazine)?
Drawn very often first and foremost to the Eucharist, we survivors of clergy abuse arrive with gifts forged in suffering and its lingering imprint on our lives. On a personal note, myrrh seems like the gift I had, homeless beggar who I was, sensing new life in Him with only the death of childhood, relationships and hope to offer.
Can you exchange your opinions about abuse survivors for an evangelism of immediacy and presence? Someone had somewhere anticipated meeting me, and at a pivotal juncture in my own path directed me to Isaiah 61:3.
Exile ends as we take courageous steps to grow closer to the Lord. As we do, He gently reveals gold in faith’s riches and frankincense in His victory over all evil, even the evil that drove us away from His Church. He turns our gift of myrrh into treasure and holiness, because He is the Lamb of God.
Would you be able to accept a stranger’s perspective instead of your own here? Would you be able to silence the easy impulse to criticize the Church with cliches, or to make facile references to getting over the past and just moving on?
Solely for survivors reading this, I add the most puzzling truth I have discovered in our spiritual journey—that we return to our homes with the healing we find in Christ. It has made us wounded healers for our circles–small or large. This does not involve effort. It involves deepening intimacy with the Lord.
Few will mention this truth. Sermons about the Epiphany sometimes hint at it, noting the wise men, having encountered the Lord, don’t stay but return home, don’t just return in the same way but follow a different path–because they recognize what is sinister, what threatens a Child in the manger. This reality falls outside the purview of therapy. And, sadly, outside the frame of reference (for now) for many of our Christian and Catholic sisters and brothers. Back to my primary readers ….
You have fortunately not been victims of abuse by clergy–or anyone in authority. Your life, too, has sufferings, some very great. From your suffering, as from our sufferings, come some of our greatest gifts before the Lord. From these gifts can you draw deeply for ways to extend hospitality to a survivor of child abuse by clergy in the Church?
This magazine, published by Catholic survivors of clergy abuse, can help you to help others. That’s the same as saying it exists to help us all grow in faith, fellow travelers in this mortal and transitory life away from unity with God. The survivor’s journey, which is characterized by the unlikely perseverance of the Magi, has much to inspire others even in the messiness of our human needs.
So, here’s an idea. Why don’t you start helping others find this message by sharing this article, as a gift of little Christmas? Forward it to one other who is dedicated to bringing the Good News to a those wandering in a world characterized by indignities, violence, and death. Bring the gifts born of our suffering to a suffering world on Little Christmas.