Making Crooked Paths Straight

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My daughter, Meaghan, has been diagnosed with an advanced case of major double scoliosis.  The diagnosis came so fast and so unexpectedly, my husband I decided to wait and watch three months to see if her curve would worsen.

It did indeed—a whooping 8* in a very short amount of time.  

“If you don’t get the brace now,” our MD advised us in late January, “I will likely refer you to a spinal surgeon at Johns Hopkins to have metal rods put in her back.”

After I took screen shots of a spine so bent and crooked it took my breath away, I took the mound of paperwork from the doctor, thanked him for his conscientiousness, and walked to the parking lot towards my fire engine red Ford passenger van.  As I turned the key in the ignition, I felt my shoulders slump and my head hang. I mentally tabulated the emotional, physical, and financial toll the next few months would bring. 

I fought off tears and then this line from John 19:36 popped into my brain: 

 “For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “Not a bone of him shall be broken.”

It was like a prophecy that hit me square across the jaw.  

I put the car in drive and started down the road.

“Ok, Lord.  Straighten her crooked spine,” I prayed silently.   

I’m told the type of medical device we ordered is so advanced that it won’t simply keep the spine from worsening (like the braces of yonder years) but will indeed made her crooked paths straight.

“Are you serious?” I asked the technician at our initial appointment for Meaghan to be fitted for the plastic contraption that will become her constant companion and undergarment.

“As a heart attack,” she said.  “These braces are the latest and greatest in medical technology and if she commits to wearing this device, it will fix Meaghan’s scoliosis,” she exclaimed, barely able to contain her excitement.  

I nodded my head, hopeful but not convinced.  Still, the convicted pronouncements from both the medical doctor and the orthotics staff are hard to ignore.

Yesterday at 11 am we arrived at the orthotics and prosthetics clinic so Meaghan could be fitted for a brace.  Meaghan, a huge fan of Wonder Woman, had picked a patriotic star pattern to decorate the plastic device that she will wear 23 out of 24 hours of the day.

“I love it,” she exclaimed when the technician showed her the brightly colored print.

“Doesn’t it look like Wonder Woman’s belt?” the technician asked.  Meaghan beamed back at her.  

“Yes!  I just love it,” she repeated.

It looks like a mid-evil torture device, I thought but grinned to hide my negative thoughts.  I can’t imagine having to wear that piece of plastic on my body for 23 hours a day.

I followed them both back to a room where Meaghan was asked to try on the newly fabricated made just for her device.  The first go around was so uncomfortable, Meaghan yelped in pain.  

Tears stung my eyes.  

I could see her flesh beneath the plastic bunch, twist, and redden.  I could see her struggle to breath.  I felt angry at God.

Where are you?  I asked silently.

After a few minutes, the technician peeled the brace off of Meaghan.  I saw her entire body relax.

“Don’t worry, Meaghan, the tech assured her.  “I’m going to adjust this, so it fits much more comfortably.  We’re going to work this out. Let me go cut this thing so it works better for you.  It will take me some time so go hang out in the lobby.”

Meaghan smiled at her and wandered out of the room.  I sat there feeling kind of stunned, still shaken from the pinching skin and my child’s obvious discomfort.  

How are we going to do this for 23 hours for the next 365 days? I wondered.  I felt myself slip into the pit of self-pity.

“Do not worry about tomorrow!”  came the command.  

It was another line from scripture placed gently before my mind to consider.  This one is from Matthew 6:34 and the full line reads, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

It was true, I was a bundle of nerves, worried everything imaginable:  the new kinds of clothes we needed to buy for her, how this was going to affect her extracurricular activities, the mounting medical costs, how the brace would affect her life at school, her social encounters, and everything anything else I might possibly obsess about.

I pondered the invite to not worry for a moment.  

Would happen if instead of focusing on the negative things—my current mode of operation—I praised God for the positive parts?  I decided to do a test run:

Thank you, Lord, for the sports physical that I initially complained about having to get but am now so grateful for because this was how we discovered her severe curve.

Thank you, Lord, that you answered my prayer for a good orthopedic doctor, who I felt right away was the right person for this job.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful medical technician who is so kind and loving to Meaghan.

Thank you, Lord, for health savings accounts and payment plans and for providing us with exactly what we need when we need it.

Thank you, Lord, for support groups for girls with this diagnosis and for all the emotional support and friendships it will provide.

After just a few moments of thanks, the air in the room felt thinner.  

I could breathe better again.  

The anger was gone because, hello, Jesus had never left either of us but had been with us this entire time.

The room seemed brighter, not nearly as dark and drab as it had when I entered. 

“Ok,” I said to myself. “I’m not going to worry about tomorrow, I’m just going to get through the appointment today.”  And that’s what I did.  We all made it out alive, Meaghan still were her flesh in tact. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in denial.  Meaghan and I are on a long road for the next year and I know it.

 But we’re not walking the road alone.  

 He is with us, guiding our every foot step.  Our path with Him has never been crooked.  He will make her bones and my attitude straight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Open Letter To The Archbishop of my Diocese

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August 12, 2018

Dear Archbishop ,

I discovered the beauty and truth the Catholic Church had to offer me when I was an unmarried, college student trying to figure out what to do with my life.   Nestled in a dimly lit dormitory basement one evening preparing for class, I sat at a table reading a copy of Humanae Vitae, the document written by Pope Paul VI on the Church’s teachings on married sexuality.  As I poured through the words compiled by the Holy Father, my mind was opened to a vision of marriage and family that I had never contemplated before, most especially the idea of married and conjugal love as a reflection of the union between the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

What I learned in that document impacted me in such a profound way that as I closed the thin, marked up booklet that evening, I decided right then and there not only to embrace what the Church taught about marriage and sex, I resolved to teach my children about the great truths of the Catholic Church as well.  Several years later, I met and married my husband, John Duggan, another practicing Catholic.  We’ve been married fifteen years and together we have welcomed seven pregnancies and six living children.  We have done our best to imbue our children in the Catholic faith and to teach them as we best we can what is right from wrong in this morally relative culture.  We take seriously the exhortation found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to evangelize our children and to initiate them from an early age into the mysteries of faith.  We have indeed made great efforts to associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the church (CCC 2225).

Of course, we are not perfect, and we make many mistakes.  

If there is one thing that we’ve learned through marriage and parenting is the very real truth found in Pope Benedict’s description of family life as a gymnasium of charity. As such, we regularly frequent the sacrament of Confession, begging pardon from God for our sinful weakness. We drag ourselves to the heavenly banquets served to us each week in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  We are grateful for the graces we glean from these sacraments and we recognize that they fortify us in our call to radical holiness in this crazy world.  

I share this information to demonstrate the deep love and dedication I feel for my Mother, the holy, Catholic Church, and my commitment to obediently follow the truths she gives me.  It’s also why, when I learned of the McCarrick Scandal and those complicit in his cover-ups, I felt completely devastated.  

The news of this scandal and the insidious coverups by those around him have left me feeling duped, as if I’ve been called to embrace a life of chastity according to my vocation, preached to me since childhood but one that is not being practiced by a few duplicitous souls in power in the Church.  

Before I explain myself, first let me express my gratitude for the good priests we’ve benefited from as a family, particularly Monsignor James Farmer who was our parish priest  for over five years.  MonsignorFarmer cultivated a personal relationship with us, treating us like a father treats his children, frequently seekingout my family after Mass, which was no small feat in our 10,000-person.

He knew each of us by name. He noticed us and made us feel wanted. After Sunday Mass, he’d give me a hug,or he’d stop at our table during our parish breakfasts to chat.  He would lovingly tease our childrenand ask them questions. On solemnities like Christmas or Easter, Monsignor would whisper to meor John, “Please bring the kids to the sacristy.”

As soon as we assembled in front of him, Monsignor pulled out bags of candy he’d purchased for the kids. Whenever we invited him to our house to celebrate a Sacrament, he would attend, often bringing several seminarians with him.  When he learned I was pregnant with our sixth child, Monsignor flagged me down after Sunday Mass.  

“I want to baptize your baby, Colleen.  It will be my honor,” he said.  He did baptize my sixth baby and brought three seminarians with him to the party afterwards.

He is a good man who quite literally gives his life for the true, the good and the beautiful.  Each week he fed us the body of Christ, absolved me and my family from their sins, preached, and catechized the masses.  It would be wrong of me to overlook the holy priests like Monsignor Farmer, and those priests currently in residence at St. John’s Catholic Church, who are doing their best to follow God’s call and serve their bride, the Holy Catholic Church.

But I’m angry and saddened by the news of the egregious abuse of minors, seminarians, and young priests from those like Archbishop McCarrick.  

I’m appalled that not only did abuse happen but that it was regularly enabled by those around him, people who held positions of the highest power in the Church.  My heart breaks for those victimized by him and others like him and I’m enraged that those known for sex abuse continued to be promoted to positions of authority, even after accusations of abuse were made.  

I’m critical of the clericalism that exists in the highest echelons of the Church where clergy pat each other on the back, hailing the “virtuous” behavior of the other while they enable the grave sexual sins of brother priests. 

I’m angry that those who knew about the crimes did little to protect the most vulnerable.  I’m angry that reports of abuse were ignored without investigation. 

I’m disgusted by the kinds of morally reprehensible sexual antics and acts happening at the seminaries and amongst the ordained clergy.  

I’m angry that while my husband and I have tried as best we can to embrace the Church’s teachings, a few of those called to guide and encourage us have been engaged in the very illicit acts they supposedly condemn.

I’m angry that policies written in 2002 to address sexual abuse amongst the laity excluded those in power, like bishops and the like. In my own family, the generational sins we’ve faced for centuries needed to be named and exorcised. The same is true for the treacherous sexual sins happening amongst the clergy today.  

I ask you, as Bishop of our own diocese—which has suffered from its own insidious scandal and cover up—when will this be done? 

I’m also not satisfied with the Church’s response to these matters.  

There must be a full investigation that brings to light the sinister nature not only of the McCarrick scandal but all sexual abuse or immorality.  Those in the highest positions of authority who have been accused of misconduct or abuse should be investigated by lay people, not those so closely affiliated with the Church.  

There must be updates from those in power—similar to family meetings—to the people sitting in the pews about what it being done to address the scandal. A letter written when scandal breaks is not nearly enough. In my own family, I know that the attitudes my husband and I convey to our children when crisis happens filters down and is embraced by them.  If my husband and I ignore or deny the existence of evil in our home, or worse, are simply silent about it, we communicate a powerful lesson to our children

What do you suppose is the lesson conveyed at this juncture to lay people by the Bishops? It is not one of virtue, like courage and honesty and responsibility, I assure you.  

There must be, as author Dawn Eden and others like her have suggested, public penance on behalf of all the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to help counteract the damage done.  This would help heal the Body of Christ, it would help restore—at least a little of the credibility completely lost—to the Conference of Bishops.  It would show me, as a dedicated lay person in the Church, that those in authority are truly sorry for what’s happened and not just interested in putting out fires in order to return to business as usual.  

There must be regular prayer petitions from the altar where the entire body of Christ begs for healing of the Catholic Church from the top down. There must be women appointed to task forces committed to investigate allegations of sexual crimes and there must be lay people appointed to sniff out the decades of sexual deviance and dysfunction that exists in seminaries and Church power.

There must not be silence.  There must not be ignorance.  There must not be cover up.  There must not be delay.

I will not leave the Catholic Church, I love her too much, and I recognize my deep need for the food she gives me which sustains me towards my heavenly home.  But I will not be silent about my sadness, disappointment and devastation regarding these matters that affect the Church and the good of souls.  I have an obligation to defend the truth, even if a few of those in power have shirked or abandoned their duty to do so. It is part of my baptismal call and one I take seriously.   I trust in God to rectify the wrong but also know I must do my part. 

“God is light and in him there is no darkness.”

Please, I beg of you, bring the darkness into the light.  

When Father Andrew DeFusco, after I voiced my impassioned concerns and tears to him in his office, invited me to write a letter at first, I said no.  

“I can do very little to change what’s happened,” I thought. 

But then I read these words from Francis Fernandez in in Conversations with God, “Just as the current of a great river is fed by a network of tiny streams which in their turn have been formed drop by drop, our opportunity to contribute to the river of truth should never be omitted.”

And I knew then I would write you.  

I have a love for the Church and for those who serve her and I deeply long for the truth of Jesus Christ to be spread to all the nations.  I believe the Catholic Church is the herald of that message and I will not allow my opportunity to speak out against the injustice happening within her pass.

I will pray for you, for the holy Catholic Church, and for the broken, bleeding and wounded body of Christ that you serve.  I implore you to not delay in organizing a task force to prevent future crimes and abuse like the ones I’ve discussed from happening ever again.  I will also offer my assistance to help in any way in seeking reform.  Please receive this letter with the charity and love with which it is intended.

In Christ’s Love,

 

Colleen Duggan

St. John’s Catholic Church parishioner, wife, mother, catechist, speaker, and author  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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