Bringing Hope to Brokenness
A review of Fr. Mitch Pacwa's book Wheat and Tares: Restoring the Moral Vision of a Scandalized Church
+JMJ+ These are tough times to be a Catholic (not that it's ever "easy"). I recently heard these times described as a “tipping point” and I have to agree. We are seeing more and more priests and religious speaking out on their own agendas that are not in line with church teaching or, at the very least, open to interpretation. We are still reeling from the sexual abuse scandal, still finding out about hidden abuse, still waiting for the McCarrick report to be released, and hearing about more and more corruption and scandal from within. These are scandalous times.
Fr. Mitch Pacwa has always fascinated and inspired me, particularly after hearing him speak on the EWTN special “Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.” Fr. Mitch has seen a lot and been through a lot, and his messages never cease to inspire, instruct, reassure and, most of all, fill me with hope.I have slowly been working my way through his recently published book Wheat and Tares (EWTN publishing). Why slowly, you may ask? Well, I'm in my third trimester of pregnancy and my body doesn't always cooperate with me when I try to read at the end of the day. As hard as I try, some nights by body decides it would rather sleep than read. Anyway, this has taken a bit longer to get through than I originally intended. However, this tired mama has persevered and I'm so glad I did! Fr. Mitch's message has truly been a grace.
I knew from the beginning that, as a survivor of clerical abuse, Wheat and Tares might not be an easy one to get through because of the subject matter. He is, of course, speaking of scandal which includes the sex abuse scandal. However, I really wanted to hear what Fr. Mitch had to say. Fr. Mitch is one of those rare priests who “gets it.” He sees where our Church has been, where it is, and where it's going. He doesn't make excuses for what has been allowed to happen and, unlike many of our shepherds, he does not try to cover up the obvious corruption. On the contrary, he is very clear and very open about the evil that has been allowed to infiltrate the Church.
In a nutshell: there are weeds in the Church – there always have been and always will be. In other words, Satan will always try to bring it down. However, this undeniable fact does not mean that we should just sit back and not fight back, nor does it mean that Satan will win in the end. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact! Fr. Mitch uses parables from the Bible to illustrate this reality, this battle between good and evil, while also bringing a message of hope. In the end, he reminds us, Christ will triumph.
Read that again: Christ will triumph.
No matter what the Catholic Church goes through, no matter what suffering and scandal we face as Catholics, there is hope. If we the faithful stick close to Christ, trusting in Him and relying on the graces received from the sacraments, there will always be hope.
One of the chapters that particularly hit home with me was about Jesus' Way of the Cross. I have to share with you the following two paragraphs that left me in tears.
“For me or anyone else to tell the victims of sexual abuse to “just forgive” their abusers would be superficial, especially if their childhood and youth had been interrupted, if not destroyed, by it. No one ought to short-circuit a victim's need to process their anger, pain, and shame. Rather, let them come to the Cross themselves and meet Jesus in His suffering and allow their pain to join with His. Those who suffer deeply share a communion of mutual understanding to which other people have little access. That is one reason that veterans of battle say little to noncombatants about the trauma of war but speak to each other with understanding, even if they fought in different wars. They can tear up or even weep over horrible memories and lost war buddies and comprehend each other, frequently without words.
It is precisely to this kind of communion of suffering shared with Jesus on the Cross that I invite the victims of sexual abuse. They may not necessarily say much, but they can silently grieve their pain, the injustice committed against their innocence, and the corrupt handling of their situation by those who should have protected them. Only within that communion of pain can they hear Jesus pronounce his prayer, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They may hear His words of forgiveness being directed to themselves; they may hear it addressed to those who harmed and even tortured them. At some point, they may be able to speak those same words themselves in a prayer for their abusers. However, to avoid a superficial statement of mere words, they can simply be with Jesus, feel their own pain alongside Him, and let His suffering bring them healing before they say this word of forgiveness themselves.” (Wheat and Tares, p. 143, 144)
Forgiveness is possible but it is so, so difficult! The topic of mercy and forgiveness is one that a lot of people don't like to talk about. It's easy enough to tell someone to forgive, but it's a lot harder to put it into practice ourselves. And Fr. Mitch recognizes that! He's not encouraging survivors to “forgive and forget.” He is encouraging survivors to bring their pain to the cross. That has been key for me on my own healing journey.
On a side note, I'll be speaking about my own experience with forgiveness at the God Is Mercy event later in November (See Speaking page for more details!).
Again, this may be a difficult book for someone to read who has been directly affected by clerical abuse. Personally, I personally found it to be quite healing and eye-opening but I recognize that not everyone is in the same place in their healing as me. I was deeply moved while reading it and reached yet another level of healing, particularly when it comes to my feelings about the Catholic Church. Many of us have probably been quite disappointed and surprised at some of the news coming out recently, and Wheat and Tares is a great read for anyone who may be struggling.
These are times in which we need to stand, fight, and represent our Catholic Faith for what it truly is. I struggle with discouragement and, honestly, I have never struggled so much as I have over the past year or so. What I've seen happening in my beloved Church is frustrating beyond what I can articulate with words. However, I have to remind myself of why I have chosen to remain Catholic. I can tell you that it's not for any human being – no priest, bishop, religious, or even for the pope. I choose to remain a practicing Catholic of Jesus Christ alone. I believe that this is the Church that He founded and that, if it is being hit so hard, then it must be the one true church. We are all being called to protect, defend, and rebuild it even if in our own small way. We are all being called to bring hope and healing to its brokenness.
How do we do this? We've got all the tools and spiritual graces we need right in front of us! We have prayer, the sacraments, many good leaders and, most of all, we have Jesus Himself. He's not going to abandon us and we need to keep asking for those graces to help us through these times of battle. Ask for the grace to trust and surrender to Our Lord. Put everything into His lap and into the lap of His Holy Mother, and then resist the urge to try taking the control back.
My friends, I beg of you: DON'T GIVE UP! PLEASE DON'T ABANDAON CHRIST IN HIS PASSION!
“Though we may try to remove ourselves from the Church, let us never cease hearing Jesus speak the truth of Sacred Scripture to inflame our hearts and recognize Him in the most Holy and Blessed Sacrament. There we will find His peace and eternal life.”
- Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., Wheat and Tares
To order your copy of Wheat and Tares by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., you can go to Sophia Press (non-commissioned link)
Disclaimer: this post is in no way sponsored by Sophia Press. I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest feedback and am simply sharing my thoughts in this blog post.