The same day as the release of the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, August 14, I moved to Berkeley, California, for the final three years of Jesuit formation to become a Catholic priest. On August 15, I began a five-day training with Off the Mat, Into the World, an organization bridging yoga, self-inquiry, social justice and activism.
The first couple days after the report, I remained in the bubble of the yoga training and my new setting. By Friday, the gravity of this scandal weighed on me in a way I could no longer run from. I felt shame, embarrassment, anger, sadness. I didn’t cause the scandal, but that didn’t matter. I am part of it. I would have to face up to it and pay for what so many wounded “leaders” inflicted and then covered up.
And now the yoga begins.
My favorite definition of success is the ability to respond consciously when life is incompatible. With this nightmare of a situation in my church family, I have choices to make. I could run. I could defend. I could deny. I could point the finger. And there I was, in the days after the Pennsylvania report, part of a five-day training on trauma, healing and conscious activism. A major emphasis of the training was the importance of doing the inner work along with engagement in service, justice and activism. The Off the Mat teachers encouraged a movement beyond the us/them dichotomy that pervades our discourse and embraces the insight of Aboriginal activist Lilia Watson that our liberation is tied together.*
Another quote that’s been replaying in my mind since the training is from environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill. While spending two years living in a tree in a redwood forest, she stated, “As I was pointing at all that’s wrong in the world, I realized there’s three fingers pointing back.” None of us are exempt from the oppression in our world. In order to change what is happening out there, we need to realize and discharge the traumas and shadows within. The first revolution needed is one of self-accountability. Inner work, self-inquiry and awareness of mutual liberation are the work we need in order to shift consciousness and transform the unjust and oppressive structures that pervade our world.
Back to the church. Part of me wants to turn and run away from all of this. Many have. I understand. But, for me, I’m not convinced that this would be the most conscious form of activism and, furthermore, not what I believe God is calling me to.
At the risk of defending or justifying, I would like to articulate why I choose to remain.
I am inspired by people like Sr. Simone Campbell and her August 21 interview. I am inspired by the people in villages in Mexico and Belize who find hope and healing through the sacraments and their faith. I am inspired by gay and lesbian friends who choose to remain Catholic because the Church and God they believe in is more than the institution and leaders who do not fully accept them. I am inspired by the people who show up for the Ignatian Yoga retreats seeking a spirituality rooted in the Catholic tradition that’s relevant and engages the whole self.
I feel called to accompany and walk with these people. I feel called to work within this broken and imperfect institution toward undoing the patriarchy and white supremacy that has infected the Church for far too long. I feel called to work within the Church to transform its structures so that women can take up leadership positions at all levels and where the goodness of same-sex couples and gender diversity is celebrated. I feel called to reclaim the Jesus of the Gospels and construct a church and world more in line with his vision. I feel called to build the Kingdom of God along with people of other faith traditions and work alongside the movements that seek justice, equality, inclusivity and peace. I feel called to discover the living Christ shining through the cracks in our broken world (and my broken self) and allow this consciousness to transform.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”-Lilla Watson