Against the background of the still-unfolding sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church, the Ignatian Spirituality Network offered a workshop last month called Hope Does Not Disappoint: Spiritual Direction in Challenging Times for the Church. This workshop did not – as did a recent missive by former Pope Benedict – address causes and remedies – but rather was aimed to help spiritual directors as they both reflect on their own vocation in light of the crisis and create space for directees to respond during direction sessions.
The two main questions wrestled with in the Ignatian Spirituality’s workshop were these: What is our calling as spiritual directors in the midst of the sex abuse crisis? How do we accompany people who are rightly suspicious, hurt, angry, and grieving by the shocking failure of their beloved church — people who are betrayed by leaders they literally trusted with their souls? The workshop was not necessarily focused on directing either survivors or perpetrators of abuse, although those subjects did come up, but more on how we as directors can understand and carry out our vocation in light of everything that has and continues to happen.
Although I am not Catholic, as someone trained in the Ignatian tradition, I consider myself “Catholic adjacent.” I also have seen firsthand that abuse, willful ignorance, and systemic corruption and institutional failure are not limited to the Catholic church. I won’t go into details here, but it doesn’t take much beyond curiosity and a search engine to confirm that the Protestant church has got plenty of its own problems.
During the workshop several themes emerged:
- Each one of us has a basic calling as a Christian to discipleship. That calling exists within the larger “Christ project” – the redemption of all people and all creation. For directors, our calling as disciples is primarily lived out within the space of direction. We may or may not have a voice within the larger power structure of our institutions, but each of us can live every opportunity we have to take part in Christ’s work to the fullest.
- It’s important to keep our eyes on the risen Christ and the presence and action of God in our lives. Ignatian practices help us continue to discern and stay attuned in the moment.
- One of the speakers explained a revelation he came to, in contemplative prayer, of the sex abuse crisis as a continuation of the crucifixion today. We are standing as witnesses, much as Mary and John did at the foot of the cross, to the suffering of Christ in our time. The abuse crisis, like the crucifixion, is a deliberate rejection of God’s love. This is an especially poignant thought to reflect on at Easter time. It neither minimizes the pain experienced by those victimized – pain that, as both speakers affirmed, will be with them for all of their lives – nor leaves all in desolation. We are journeying, slowly and surely, with God towards the full restoration of all humanity.
- The “bloodletting” among the ranks of priests and bishops is a right and necessary purification of the church.
- As we offer spiritual companionship to those who are rightly struggling with the institution of the church, and who may leave or already have left in response, we can ask a few questions:
- What are the ways you are nurtured by the institutional church and what are the ways that you’re not? Where you are not, where can you go to find nurture? Where can you discern an invitation to deepen your relationship with God even during these times?
- What are you feeling? What is it like for you to feel those emotions?
- What are your interactions with God like? Who is God to you at this moment?
As we accompany those who are hurting and also deal with our own emotions in the space of direction, we continue to look, listen, and pray for the presence, love, and healing of God in our lives and in the life of the Body of Christ.
*On a much lighter note, while I was writing this blog post — blissfully sipping my warm cocoa oolong bubble milk tea — I overheard the following statement from a black-leather-clad woman talking loudly on her phone:
“Oh, I am much more evil than his exes. He just doesn’t know that yet. He’s about to find out.”
She looked like she could flatten that boy with her hands tied behind her back, using only her pinkie toe and the force of her malice. I hope he’s a better runner than he is a boyfriend.
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