Letting the light shine on past sins will begin healing

Clarion Herald Commentary

God is in control.

I’ll never forget the gift I was given in Katrina. Our house near the University of New Orleans had been swamped, and three weeks later, I was dragging our piano to the curb by myself.

I hadn’t grown muscles where there were none. It was just that the piano was in a million pieces, and each piece had the consistency of balsa wood.

I had a flashback then to when I was a kid, spending 50 cents on a balsa wood airplane kit that produced a glider lasting for at least a day or two until my younger brother inadvertently stepped on it as it came in for a crash landing through a large rectangular space in the elevated living room wall down to the runway in the den.

As I stood with one of my sisters after Katrina scraping a pile of memories to the curb, she was crying. I told her, “It’s going to be OK.”

One of the unearned blessings of being raised Catholic – baptized when I had absolutely no choice in the matter – is an innate sense that no matter what happens, no matter what, everything is going to be OK because God is in control.

It’s easy for me to profess that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. I have been blessed with the knowledge and experience of an authentic, loving God by parents who cherished six children and did everything in their power to protect, support and challenge us.

They loved us.

That childhood experience has been a movable feast. I have an indelible experience of being loved by God because my parents first loved me. Even when buffeted, that life buoy has remained unsubmerged. What an unearned blessing and inestimable gift.

I cannot truly empathize with the person who has been victimized by sexual abuse because I was shielded from that pain. The evil of sexual abuse, particularly perpetrated by someone whom a child is predisposed to trust, must be measured by something that goes far beyond Dante’s nine circles of hell. 

For Catholic journalists, these are difficult times, but nothing, of course, is comparable to the suffering of sexual abuse victims, whose pain is in another galaxy.

With God’s help

Our vocation as Catholic journalists is to write stories – parables, really – about how individuals have used their Catholic faith – their faith in a God who is ultimately in control – to overcome obstacles in life. 

Just a few:

  • Erik Vagenius, a Chicago Cubs fan, was raised to new life from his enslavement to alcohol and now has freed thousands of others through a nationwide effort called  the Substance Abuse Ministry (SAM), which is flourishing in the Archdiocese of New Orleans due to the efforts of Deacon Louis Bauer. 
  • Aaron Neville, who was imprisoned as a young man before he became a famous singer, said it was his mother’s faith and the love of Sister of the Blessed Sacrament Damian Widmeier at St. Monica School that became his lifeline. “I always felt there was a light at the end of the tunnel because St. Monica School gave me a lot of morals, something that’s sunk in me that is still inside me,” Neville said.
  • Joseph Narcisse, a graduate of St. Augustine High School, was among the first group of African-American students to enroll at LSUNO in 1958. In class, white students sailed paper planes in his direction. The planes had writing on the side. “It was written on the outside where I could see it,” Narcisse said. “I said, ‘I’m going to keep this for posterity.’ I guess I was expecting the instructor to say something, but he didn’t.”

Narcisse graduated and eventually went to work for 40 years with the state’s Department of Transportation. Narcisse’s daughter, Adina Narcisse Green, has a master’s in counseling psychology and a doctorate in higher education administration. “I’m very proud of her,” Narcisse said. “She’s a good person. I’m more proud of her goodness. That’s the thing. And my granddaughter’s following in her footsteps.”

The church has much work to do. Archbishop Aymond is doing exactly the right thing for all victims of sexual abuse by having a team pore over hundreds of archdiocesan files – some 50 and 60 years old – with the intention of releasing the names of priests who have been removed from ministry for the sexual abuse of a minor.

That evil must finally come to light. It is the beginning of repentance and healing.

It is an unequivocal statement to all victims that the church is seriously listening and shining a light on the sin and the crime.

These are tough times for the church, but God is in control. It’s going to be OK.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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