By Michael J. ARVIZU
I first wrote “From the Back Pew” column starting in 2009 while working as a reporter for the Glendale NewsPress and La Cañada Valley Sun.
When I moved on from those two newspapers, “the pews” went with me. It has now been resurrected in the pages of the Crescenta Valley Weekly; appropriately so, too, as Easter is just around the corner.
The title of my column is a remix of the title of a book of essays edited by Kate Dugan and Jennifer Owens, titled, “From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism.” Although the book is targeted at Catholic young women, it asks many of the basic questions I’ve been struggling with as I live my faith, such as: How do I define myself? What is my relationship with the church? What is my place in the church? What does it mean to be young and Catholic in today’s church?
Like the kid who sits at the back of the class, lying low, hoping the professor doesn’t notice him as he sneaks into class, I am a person of faith who doesn’t always adhere to strict Catholic doctrine, hoping to get by with the least amount of effort.
These are challenging times for the church.
Let’s start with Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, which by the time you read this will have taken effect.
The running joke is that you can give up chocolate for Lent, but the pope gives up the papacy – you just can’t win. Benedict XVI resigned due to declining strength of mind and body, but that’s the official reason he gave. Some believe the clergy child sex abuse scandal got to him. Still others believe that the pontiff was influenced by multiple lobbies – even a gay lobby – to resign.
Also, in mid-2012, the pope’s butler was arrested for leaking confidential Vatican information. Throw in an anti-gay cardinal who resigned this week after being accused of inappropriate actions with other priests, and you have the ingredients to cook up a nice daytime drama filled with multiple plots and subplots.
Then, of course, there exists the aforementioned clergy child sex abuse scandal for which no end seems in sight. Like ants that have invaded a home, the scandal will never completely go away.
Of course, the media has had a knack in recent years for squeezing the juice out of the proverbial Catholic sex scandal lemon in order to keep people reading their newspapers, watching their television shows, or visiting their websites, even when there’s barely anything left to squeeze out. Benedict’s resignation is the icing on the cake because it hits at the highest echelons of the Catholic Church.
I can’t help but sigh at what I read and watch each day. But I also believe that now, more than ever, we are called to hold fast to our beliefs.
Scripture is filled with the struggles of the men and women of the early church who put their lives on the line for their beliefs and prayers for those who persecuted them.
I believe these times for the church are no different. Scandals and resignations affect the hierarchy of the church, and they affect the people of the church as they struggle to comprehend what is going on. Those on the outside look at us, laugh, point fingers, and call us hateful names – not unlike what Christ went through on his way to Calvary.
Scripture teaches us that we must forgive them, hold a place in our hearts for them, and pray for them. We must also pray for guidance as we navigate this tumultuous maze.
Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, a man whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with, has been lambasted left and right over his supposed failure to remove priests accused of sexual abuse. (And I will admit that I have not taken a personal position on what Mahony should or should not have done.)
But on his personal blog this week, the cardinal, fully aware of what his critics have had to say about him, wrote about his personal Lenten challenge – forgiving those who have trespassed against us. Does this phrase sound familiar?
To a certain extent, Mahony’s challenge is also a challenge to all of us.
“Anyone interested in loving your enemies, or doing good to those who persecute you?” Mahony wrote. “My daily prayer list includes both loved ones/friends, as well as those who dislike or even hate me. If I don’t pray for all of these people, then I am not following Jesus’ specific discipleship demand. Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness has flooded the world over the centuries, and this message has had the power to change hearts and minds.”
Is it a coincidence that Mahony’s personal challenge falls during Lent? I don’t think so. Jesus, while hanging on a cross, said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”