a strange thing occurred after easter sunday 7:00pm mass on easter at christ our hope parish downtown seattle.
after mass, i was saying goodbye to people and “happy easter’ wishes. as congregants were exiting, i noticed a bit of a commotion at the doorway. then, i saw the exiting folks make two lines for a person in a wheelchair to come in. he was having a hard time opening one of the doors and wheeling inside the building.
someone finally helped him back up so that the door could open. everyone waited patiently for him to come in. as he slowly rolled in, he looked at people on both sides of the easter congregants’ lines. to each person he looked at, he loudly said, “F*** YOU!” he really meant it; he seemed to be drunk or high. he must exclaimed the expletive five or six times. obviously, this had upset many people who just finished joyfully celebrating jesus resurrection.
as he got to the end of the line, he looked up and saw me in my vestments. he immediately knew that i was the priest but had a quizzical look on his face. maybe he was wondering if he should pass on his unique easter greeting to me! as i noticed his pause, i said to him with a smile, “happy easter to you, sir.” he did not quite know how to respond, but looked me in the eye and said, “UNhappy easter to YOU.”
i smiled to myself knowing that i tried to defuse the situation. then he added in a stage whisper, “you molest children!” i responded, “sir, i have never molested any children.” he then backtracked and said, “well, your church has!”
i thought that this conversation would only further go downhill so just looked him in the eye and walked away in silence.
this man, spurred by a bit of alcohol, articulated what some people think about the catholic church and priests. perhaps many people? if people really believe that all priests molest children, why would they want anything to do with us?
anyone who is involved in the catholic faith realizes that while there has been abuse by some priests, that it does not define the whole of catholicism. the responses that all dioceses have implemented in the almost 20 years to protect children show that we have come a long way in our self understanding and the good changes to protect children at all levels. we still have a long ways to go in implementing consistently these protocols.
but most people do not follow the changes of protocol– catholics included. indeed our moral voice suffers because of ad hominem attacks. it is easier to generalize that “all priests are child molestors”
why do we throw out these harmful generalizations? all ____ do ____
real people suffer when we throw out these type of hurtful statements. every group can suffer from ugly generalizations: people of color, lgbtqia+, police, baptists, disabled people, rich people, poor people, whatever political party, whatever one’s country of origin, whatever movement we disagree with, etc
when we put people into boxes, it is an excuse to marginalize their unique stories. the people in front of us are sons and daughters of God first and foremost. various factors are the adjectives that help define us– but the adjectives are not us.
since that easter evening, i have wondered to myself how other priests might have reacted to the situation at hand. since we priests are all different, responses could have been all along the continuum.
what i do know is: the man in the wheelchair has deep hurts/pain in his life. and the hurt came out on us– even on a joyous occasion as easter good friday continues
perhaps the Spirit is inviting us to really love our enemies in seeing them as hurt people who may have intentionally or unintentionally hurt us. maybe the Spirit is asking a different response to be people of healing and not unfair judgment. maybe we need God’s grace to move away from the generalizations we harbor in our hearts and try to really listen and understand one another.
Thanks for the reminder! ❤
Prays for him for healing. Way to keep your cool , being accused in that manner at that moment must have taken your breath away.
Peace and hugs from Prescott .
Amen Fr Art!
Carolyn & Bob T
God bless you always!
You’re a very good priest father Art…i always have admired how happy you are and treat everyone with kindness and respect….i admit i have lost my temper with people who are rude …your blessed with patience and compassion
rosemary, you are too kind. i quote pope francis when i say “i am just a man who does what he can”
have a graced day!