Greater is He:
Heaps of Trash and the Grand Jury Report
Every day, I used to pass a huge pile of trash on the corner of North and the railroad tracks as I walked to Mass from our mission house in downtown Steubenville. It was vast, sprawling, smelly, partially decomposed, and various plants had been pushing their way up through the refuse, mixing their life with the litter. On different days I would feel differently about it: angry, sad, desperate, indignant, disgusted, resentful… always, though, I felt a little helpless.
One year as Lent approached, I sensed that God was inviting me to start cleaning up this heap as a Lenten exercise. So, I started taking time here and there to pick it up, trying to sort out recyclables where I could, praying fervently there weren’t used needles lurking in the pile to poke through my gloves. As I worked, I thought and prayed. On one hand, I was sort of annoyed at this assignment the Lord had given me. It wasn’t my fault, after all! And it would have been so much easier to clean up a year ago – BEFORE the plastic of the garbage bags had begun to disintegrate, before the McDonalds leftovers and soda had congealed and begun to decay, before the weeds and even bushes had started coming up, growing right into the heap, obscuring trash. Sometimes I was pretty angry that I was out there, working alone. Didn’t anyone else notice the trash? Didn’t anyone notice me? Of course, I hadn’t asked for help, but I still indulged in these self-pitying thoughts.
On the other hand, I felt deeply that though I wasn’t responsible for the mess, I was somehow responsible for cleaning it up. I was responsible because of my communion with the human family, because I am a member of the body of Christ, because I noticed the trash, because I knew it shouldn’t be there, because I was able to do something about it. Above all, I was responsible because it was a little task the Lord Himself seemed to entrust to me. So I kept at it. Sometimes I would notice new trash had been added to the pile, but on the whole, it seemed to be shrinking, bit by bit.
I got a nasty sinus infection in the last weeks of Lent and couldn’t continue my efforts – it was all I could do to drag myself to prayer and to work at the thrift store and soup kitchen we help run. The trash heap weighed on my mind, and I avoided going past it; I didn’t want to see that it had grown again. It felt like a personal failure that I was not going to totally eradicate the garbage pile by Easter. On Good Friday, I was well enough to walk down to the local parish for Stations of the Cross and confession and I decided I would walk past the pile of refuse – my pile of refuse – and face its ugliness.
But when I got there, the corner of North and the railroad tracks was all cleared. The trash was gone, as was some of the more disgusting undergrowth. Someone had even mowed the grass. I stood on the side of the road and gaped at the mystery that stood before me. Somebody (or somebodies) had done what I could not do and had done so more completely than I ever intended to. As crazy as this may seem, it was a sign for me of the Easter mystery, of redemption. I had done what I could – and it was insufficient though sincere. But God Himself seemed to intervene, completing and perfecting what I had started in obedience to His prompting.
I’ve tried to live in that place of mystery ever since. And it’s from the corner of North and the tracks that I have been listening to my brothers’ and sisters’ pain these past days and weeks as we grapple with the sordid and appalling revelations regarding Archbishop McCarrick and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. How did this happen? Why hasn’t anyone done anything? Said anything? While those questions need to be addressed by the bishops, I don’t actually need the answers to hear God’s call for me right now. I’m not responsible for this mess – but I am responsible to help clean it up as a member of the human family and Christ’s body the Church. I have the power to help always and only because Christ lives in me. St. John said it well: “You belong to God, children […] the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Yes, we belong to God! That is the great good news of redemption. Ultimately, all will be well.
But all is not well right now. Standing at the proverbial corner of North and the tracks, surveying the heap of trash in our Church, I once again feel a call to begin the slow work of restoration – and I’ve learned enough to know that this is a work that I as an individual and we as a community cannot do alone. Please join us as we put on our gloves and get to work, each doing our own part to cooperate with Christ’s immense work of reconciliation.
Sincerely in Christ,
Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, T.O.R.