What Really Matters? Consolation is the Answer to Moving Forward.
Jesus also said to the multitudes, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12: 54-56)
Sooner or later, whether it was the sexual abuse scandals in St. John’s or the residential school scandals nationally, it would be inevitable that all would come to light. Generations in the future, who had no direct involvement, pay for sins from the past. The victims deserve justice. No one questions that. Many conclude the church’s efforts were spent trying to prove she was right, rather than doing what was right. For Roman Catholics living here, it has been over 30 years of living under the cloud of scandal, when the truth first came to light. Ours is a prolonged and painful reconciliation.
The Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s is in bankruptcy protection, and everything that can be sold is being sold to provide the maximum compensation for the victims. All the church buildings, including the Basilica, any land holdings, all the rectories and homes for priests that were owned by the archdiocese, are up for sale.
“The church is not its buildings, but its people.” A statement so easily said, but so difficult to swallow. Many Catholics had left the church because of the scandal, and those who continued to hope and work for a better church were those still using those buildings. Our babies were baptized there, our children were married there, and our loved ones were buried from there. Especially on the Burin Peninsula, people brought their own lumber and built their churches on land they gave to the church. The buildings may not be the church, but they are more than buildings. Parishioners put their money, their hearts, and souls into their churches. Now a necessary reorganization is taking place, trying to maintain the Catholic church in an unpredictable (but certainly much smaller) number and location of churches, with a diminishing number of parishioners, and no money, for any leftovers are deposited for the settlement.
His Grace Archbishop Peter Hundt organized parishes into regional zones, and these parishes met to discern the future of their respective zones. Some discerned to raise money to buy one or more of their buildings back. Some discerned to rent or lease somewhere. Others are hoping to attract investment to save their buildings while maintaining liturgical activities.
In the midst of confusion, with no possible clear plan of action that would work, fear, anger, and sadness prevail. Should those in the pews today be made to feel guilty of the sins of long ago? Does that really matter because they must pay the price for them anyway? What really matters?
In his most recent book (which I found a fabulous and inspiring read), Michael Ignatieff tells us consolation is the answer to moving forward.
“We can be comforted without being consoled, just as we can be consoled without being comforted. Comfort is transitory; consolation is enduring. Comfort is physical; consolation is propositional. Consolation is an argument about why life is the way it is and why we must keep going.
Consolation is the opposite of resignation. We can be resigned to death without being consoled, and we can accept the tragic in life without being resigned to it. We can derive consolation, in fact, from our struggle with fate, and how that struggle inspires others.
To be resigned to life is to give up, to forgo any hope that it could be different. To be reconciled to life, on the other hand, allows us to hold our hope for what the future might bring. To be reconciled we must first make peace with our losses, defeats, and failures. To be consoled is to accept these losses, to accept what they have done to us and to believe, despite everything, that they need not haunt our future or blight our remaining possibilities.
The essential element of consolation is hope: the belief that we can recover from loss, defeat, and disappointment, and that the time that remains to us, however short, offers us possibilities to start again, failing perhaps, but…failing is better. It is this hope that allows us, even in the face of tragedy, to remain unbowed.” (Ignatieff, Michael. On Consolation – Finding Solace in Dark Times. Random House Canada, 2021, pp. 6-7).
No one denies the sins of abuse upon innocent victims. It is justice that will lead them to consolation that their suffering has meant a change in society and the hope that these things will never happen again. The future will be better because of them.
Similarly, Catholics must find consolation, for we must refuse to resign to an idea that we cannot be better. We can be different and make a difference. We have already agreed to be reconciled to our failures. And we are determined that they will not haunt our future or blight our bright possibilities. Consolation is propositional, and we propose that we can be more inclusive, more engaging, more faithful to our Christian values, closer to Jesus Christ in friendship, in kinship, and therefore in action. In the face of this tragedy, we must remain unbowed.
And we are.