My Church sits dormant. It is lifeless. No sacraments can be celebrated in her right now. Late Saturday night, she was desecrated. Her confessional, baptismal font, holy water font, presider's chair, lectern, altar, and tabernacle were smeared with human feces. The Holy Oils were emptied into the carpet. Her books used for Mass destroyed. Her vestments soiled with wine. Worst of all, the Blessed Sacrament within the tabernacle desecrated with human feces. My church sits silent. The fecal matter has been washed away. The vestments cleaned. The books replaced. Like a dead body cleaned for burial, she lies dormant. The hearts of my parishioners and my own heart hang heavy. The violation of our Church was a violation of our parish. It was a violation of our faith.
When I found out about the violation of my parish, I was away. We were 3 hours away from beginning the second session of the summer camp I run. 3 hours. My mind raced. It was too late for me to switch out responsibilities or to cancel. The attack was perfectly timed. As I was tormented about where to be, the diocese made the decision for me and told me to stay where I was. At that time I did not know that my church was not allowed to be the place of celebration of the sacraments until the evil that had occurred had been exorcised and made reparation for. This takes a bishop. In place of being there, there were flurries of phone calls with parish staff, with law enforcement, with diocesan personnel, and with the media. It unfolded like a slow moving nightmare. It seemed for 48 hours like every phone call added more hellish details.
In a conversation with my principal, we had both come independently to the same conclusion: Our parish is in a long Good Friday. We mourn as did the Blessed Mother and the disciples. We process the emotions that accompany this desecration.
For me, the first 48 hours was all about anger. It was a displaced anger. I wasn't mad at the woman who had done the damage. I saw the picture of a lost soul in need of mercy. It is dangerous and perhaps even sinful to speculate to her motivation. That is for the civil authorities to discern. I knew that if we as a parish was to stay true to our faith, that we must fight through the anger and tears and find mercy. My public statements reflected this. My internal struggles, though, were much more profound. Why?
Like my parishioners, I felt deeply violated. The confessional from which I have exercised my priestly ministry of the forgiveness of sins many thousands times over was desecrated. The baptismal font from which I had baptized 100's over my 7 years as pastor had been desecrated. The pulpit from which I had preached and instructed on the faith for so many cumulative hours had been desecrated. The altar from which I had said thousands of masses, from which I had exercised my priestly ministry had been desecrated. The church in which I had celebrated every major event in my parish; her funerals, weddings, 1st Communions, and ordination..the true parish center of my parish had been willfully desecrated. The Blessed Sacrament, for which I have tirelessly made present by the grace of God, of whom I have preached for almost 2 decades had been desecrated. I felt as if I had been gutted. This violation had engendered deep anger at the situation. That anger had no where to go.
That is always dangerous. Displaced anger is a demon looking for a home. It is our human nature to want to find someone and somewhere to make the focus of the anger. I already knew that it couldn't be the woman or God. I knew some in the parish were angry with me, with others, and with the woman. All were harmful places to deposit the anger as it creates the strife and division that was the desired product of the demonic nature of this attack. That's when it occurred to me about this being a Good Friday. It was time for me to take my cues from the that 1st Good Friday.
What was the attitude of Christ from the Cross as His Body was being desecrated and tortured? What was His attitude as His Blood was poured out and mingled with the earth into which it fell? "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." As I reflected on those words from the Cross of Christ, I knew that not only was this to be the attitude I was to have, but the attitude I would need to press upon my parish family. In His proclamation from the Cross, Jesus does not condone the evil visited upon Him, rather He asked that the Father not hold those responsible for this against them...for no one would be able to withstand such a judgement. Our attitude as a parish would have to be the same. Jesus did not allow the evil that was visited upon Him to change Him for the worse. Neither could we. This, though, is not going to be easy. It will be necessary.
When I had the first conversation with my bishop, he very clearly told me to not allow this event to change me or my parish for the worse. He said this in response to me suggesting that maybe we needed to start locking up the church building for the first time in its existence. In the past several years, our parish had come along way. We are just starting to embark on a 3-5 year plan in which the major focus is re-catechesis, helping parents and youth, and evangelization. In so many ways, we had expunged so much of the devil and his natural charism of division out of our parish. Saturday night he roared back with a vengeance. But no more that Satan was able to defeat Jesus at Calvary, will he be able to defeat us unless we allow him. Our God is more powerful than he. If our parish had been found worthy to suffer violence for the name of Jesus, then so be it. For we know, the story doesn't end in the tomb on Good Friday. Nor does our story end on this long Good Friday either.
Not often does a parish know the hour of its resurrection. We do. 8 AM on Saturday, our bishop will be with us and exorcise the evil visited upon our Church and to make reparation for that desecration. We will reclaim what was defiled. We will, by the grace of God, watch the Holy Spirit breath new life into the dormant and lifeless church building. We will have Eucharistic Adoration afterwards, as must happen where the Blessed Sacrament has been defiled. When the time comes at 11 AM, we will punctuate our taking back of our Church building with a Eucharistic Procession which will encircle the outside and inside of the building. After our long Good Friday, we will experience our Easter.
I end with this: We also know that Easter wasn't the end of the story. The Church, filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, was to engage in the mission of Jesus Christ. By the same token, we are not purging a building for the sake of of merely having a place to celebrate sacraments. These avenues of grace have a purpose: to give us the means necessary to get about the business of the Kingdom. Archbishop Sample of Portland Oregon reminded his flock a few weeks ago that the Church exists for the salvation of souls. Given our Church back this Saturday, perhaps we stand our ground to Satan and double down on our commitment to the mission of the Church. We will be given that chance. So many churches attacked as of late, especially in Iraq and Syria, will have to spend much more time in their own Good Fridays. Let us honor them and honor the mission of Jesus Christ Himself, and use this tragedy to give stronger and bolder witness to Jesus Christ and the power of His mercy and forgiveness!