Responsible for All

“There is only one means of salvation, take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men’s sins”. These words from Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, “The Brothers Karamazov”, are placed within the farewell discourse of the saintly Father Zossima. The personal challenge of Dostoevsky’s Christian vision is spoken on every page of this novel, but Zossima’s farewell is particularly persistent in relating itself to my mind in these troubled times.

As the scandal surrounding the sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy rises once again, now implicating prelates as elevated as Cardinal McCarrick, many commentators have highlighted clericalism as a serious enabler of the abuse. If these commentators were to quote Dostoevsky, one might expect them to cite the equally challenging Grand Inquisitor. This focus on clericalism particularly appeals to laymen and women, because it is one of the few things that lie within our power to effect. We cannot force the hierarchy to change its relationship to us, but we have every ability to change our own relationship to those set above us in the Church.

If what follows takes it lead from Father Zossima, that is not to discredit the application of Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor. There is a systemic corruption of Christianity among those Bishops that placed the prestige of the Church over the person of Christ that is to be found in each and every victim of sexual abuse. This systemic corruption must be dealt with systemically, but I would caution that our interrogation of institutional clericalism must be couched in a real effort to understand and adhere to the teaching of Zossima. Only if we take personal responsibility for the abuse and the cover up will we be able to work toward a reform of the Church.

The key to understanding Father Zossima’s doctrine of mutual responsibility, each to each, is this passage, also from the farewell discourse: “You might have been a light to the evil-doers, even as the one man sinless, and you were not a light to them. If you had been a light, you would have lightened the path for others too, and the evil-doer might perhaps have been saved by your light from his sin.”

Applying this admonition to the McCarrick situation, we come to see an aspect of clericalism that is more foundational than functional. We lay persons are susceptible to an assumption that expects the clergy to be our models of Christian virtue. This stems from the ancient and persistent exhortations of Saintly bishops and priests to their brother in the clergy, instructing them to be models of Christian virtue for their flocks. Added to these exhortations are the socioeconomic realities of the last two thousand years that mean written material on lay piety is a very recent addition to the Church. The mere weight of books written exclusively by and to clerics must impart a clerical flavor to our modern ideas of Christian witness.

Of course, Prelates do have a responsibility to be a “light to the evil-doers”, but this responsibility stems from their baptism, not from their ordination. Broadly speaking, Holy Orders exists as an institution for two main purposes. First and foremost is their sacred role as transmitters of sacramental grace, especially the graces of Penance and the Eucharist. Secondly is their corporate role as guarantors of the Deposit of Faith. Neither of these functions require any particular sanctity. The ecclesial institution that contains models of virtue is Sainthood, and that way lies open to each an everyone of us regardless of vocation.

I must look at my life with open eyes and find those places where my own witness failed the victims of abuse. When have I held power as a tool to be used against others, rather than as a means to serve? When have I seen others as objects of use, rather than as persons of divine dignity? When have I succumbed to my own disordered appetites, rather than being a model of temperance? When have I placed a higher premium on my own prestige than truth? I must ask myself these and a dozen similar questions each and everyday until I see the truth of Zossima’s assertion that I am responsible for all men’s sins. Nota bene: This must not be a mere thought experiment. This examination of conscience must include real contrition for my own guilt in the abuse and cover up, and it must include real penance for my sins.

Pope Benedict wrote these words concerning the abuse scandal to the Curia at Christmas time in 2010: “We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen.” The Holy Father was right to speak thus to his brother Bishops, but that cannot not prevent us from applying those same words to ourselves.

The Way of the Cross

The Way of the Cross
Sonnets by Daniel Collins

Dedicated to Jeremiah Williams

The First Station
Jesus is Condemned to Death

Let Pontius Pilate wash your blood away
For here is one more guilty of this doom,
A man that turned the Son of God to clay,
A sin that sent you to a borrowed tomb.
I am the writhing worm that dieth not,
A hollow shell all eaten out with lust,
Infecting all I touch with putrid rot,
And destined only to return to dust.

But you would lift this curse from off my head,
Would fill the chasm of my broken heart,
Would wash my sin away in water red,
And raise me to that paradise apart,
Where pain is turned to joy before your face,
And death to endless life in your embrace.

The Second Station
Jesus Takes Up His Cross

Where is the kingdom of this would-be god
That wears a diadem of bloodied thorns?
Who kneels to one so bent beneath the rod,
Or worships that which all creation scorns?
Does Caesar sit upon a broken throne,
And ask the world to bow before his pain?
Does Jupiter fall to his knees and groan
Beneath the whips that strike him once again?

The mighty gods of other men will fall,
For they have spurned the lot of lesser things.
A wounded slave will rise above them all
In weakness far beyond the strength of kings.
My rightful cross will drive you to your knee,
This cross you name the scepter of the free.

The Third Station
Jesus Falls the First Time

What wounds are these that fester in my soul,
The constant dark since first I knew the light,
The certain dread that I was never whole,
The furtive hope in sin for true delight?
Is not the fruit too sweet upon the bough,
The doom of man too lightly plucked from life?
Will ancient folly rule us even now?
Will velvet fetters never know the knife?

As I who fell with Adam fall with you,
I find the strength to rise against my will,
I find the path to Eden paved anew,
I find my broken heart is beating still.
In dust I find Love’s alchemy begins:
Your painful virtue for my easy sins.

The Fourth Station
Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

How soon this fickle heart of mine grows cold,
How soon these feet are tempted off the path,
How soon these lips forget the vow they’ve told,
How soon these eyes enflame in lust or wrath.
How soon the traitor’s kiss betrayed his hate,
How soon your brothers flew in craven fear,
How soon the crowds forsook you to your fate,
How long you sought for Sorrow’s friendly tear.

But there is one whose tears may never end,
With arms that held you in a secret joy,
The only love my sins could never rend,
The Maiden Mother of a Godling boy.
When even Heaven darkens at your death,
Remember her, and weep for Nazareth.

The Fifth Station
Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry His Cross

You cursed me long before I knew your name,
When you set loose the will of Adam’s kin.
I might have lived, without the blush of shame,
In lesser joy I did not have to win.
The ocean roars the Glory of your fame,
The forest reaches out to touch your face,
The sun will spread abroad your matchless name,
And I was ever traitor to your grace.

For you have set me free upon the Earth,
To lift your cross, or leave it as I may,
To grasp the chance at death and second birth,
Or turn to flee upon the wider way.
I cannot bear this weight that Simon bore,
Come not to me with mercy anymore.

The Sixth Station
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

I shout your name to the echoing walls,
And I seek your face in a barren void.
The servant wanders the ruinous halls,
The master is missing, his house destroyed.
A man is knocking at the master’s door,
He seeks asylum from the wind and cold.
His face is bloody, and his rags are poor.
So I cast him away; I guard your gold.

I once could see your face before my eye;
So fair it was before I left your side.
But now I shudder with an awful sigh,
And wonder what the stranger’s blood could hide.
I shout your name to the echoing walls,
Again the stranger knocks, and softly calls.

The Seventh Station
Jesus Falls the Second Time

It seemed I held all beauty in my hand,
Like moonlight dancing in a single pool.
I swore that death would tear me from the land
Before the dawn should find my passion cool.
But shadow can dispel the brightest flame,
And those that can withstand the dark are few.
I spat upon the knowledge of your name,
And the cock crew.

In Babylon they call to me for song.
Your children weep and seek a hymn of hope.
They say that you shall soon forget our wrong;
I laugh to scorn and hand them each a rope.
For all shall see the Babel we have built
With bricks of sin and mortar of our guilt.

The Eighth Station
Jesus Speaks to the Women of Jerusalem

Daughters weep, but do not weep for him.
Weep for yourselves, who stand at last alone,
Who live in dread of his immortal whim,
And count each breath against a tyrant’s loan.
Weep for your sons, who lie in graves afar,
Who fought for gods they did not even know,
And faded long before the morning star.
Weep long for these, and let this savior go.

Behold what fruit your pious tears beget-
The blood that flows from Golgotha will dry
And soon the hearts of Zion will forget
That ever came messiahs but to die.
Your savior has a single tale to tell,
That each shall walk a lonely path to Hell.

The Ninth Station
Jesus Falls the Third Time

I fell into a nightmare of desire,
And lost my soul in sighs from painted lips.
I fell into a sea of living fire,
And bathed my heart among the scuttled ships.
But I could not escape your searching glance,
Not even in the depths of blank despair.
Could any man escape, by wit or chance,
A pleading love that follows even there?

Forgive a wicked man so bent with pride
That I would test your love to Satan’s gate.
Forgive a foolish man that sought to hide
From noble heights that I esteemed too great.
Have mercy on a traitor to your love,
And I shall drain the cup that you drink of.

The Tenth Station
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments.

I wandered out of Eden long ago
And looked in awe at heaven’s endless strife.
The sun made war against the driving snow,
And each and all conspired against my life.
For these I wove a thread around my skin,
But storms may rise from lands beyond the sea.
For these I wove my pleasure and my sin
Around a soul created bare in me.

I long to tear away these gilded weeds,
To die in Adam’s nakedness with you.
But fingers lose their strength where pleasure feeds;
The more I try, the less I seem to do.
Then give the strength to others on this Hill,
Those bloody hands that rend and tear and kill.

The Eleventh Station
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

Silent as a lamb before the slaughter,
I wonder that my heart has blood to beat.
Fearful as a man who holds his daughter,
I kiss the nails that pierce your hands and feet.
If I could pour myself upon this Hill
In trembling libation to your cross,
The rush of blood and tears my heart would spill
Should seem a drop beside your sea of loss.

I begged you once to stitch my broken heart,
To lift the Father’s curse from off my head,
To raise me to that paradise apart,
Where pain is joy, and death is ever dead.
But you have pierced my heart with iron nails,
And washed my soul in blood through all my wails.

The Twelfth Station
Jesus Dies on the Cross

Forgive me Lord, I know what I have done.
Your broken body hangs upon a tree,
And see! my sin has blotted out the sun
That all may mourn the hope of what could be.
They said I would find strength among the weak,
But God has died in sorrow, and is lost.
The might of Rome has trampled down the meek,
And Judas weeps to measure up the cost.

Is pain the yoke that all might wear with ease?
Am I to walk the narrow way to death?
Is binding love the only chain that frees?
Am I to offer God this mortal breath?
Am I the dust you broke your heart to save-
A Son of Job in ignorance too brave?

The Thirteenth Station
Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross

He is dead, Mother, Jesus Christ is dead.
And you are left to taste the Blood of God,
To ponder every word he ever said,
And pave the road he sent his saints to trod.
You hold a lifeless body to your breast,
As once you held a son within your womb.
Despair shall linger long among the rest,
But Love has proved herself the darker doom.

Maria! He died because of me,
A ransom for the man who drove the nails.
Will you persist in equal agony
To teach my heart a love that never fails?
The dawn shall come though all the world should die.
But He is dead. Do you yet live? Do I?

The Fourteenth Station
Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

The Son of Man is not alone in sleep.
Another body lies beside the king,
A servant that did not have strength to weep,
A mortal soul that knew the ancient sting.
The two shall lie beyond our dusty cares,
For who shall come to roll the stone away?
Unless the Grave gives birth to all she bears
And sends her sons into the light of day.

The two were hung together on a tree,
And neither told the other to depart.
For each would rather Death taste victory
Than claim himself their single broken heart.
And for their love they know a life divine.
And Death has died at last in Palestine.

The Fourteenth Station

The Way of the Cross

The Fourteenth Station
Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

The Son of Man is not alone in sleep.
Another body lies beside the king,
A servant that did not have strength to weep,
A mortal soul that knew the ancient sting.
The two shall lie beyond our dusty cares,
For who shall come to roll the stone away.
Unless the Grave gives birth to all she bears
And sends her sons into the light of day.

The two were hung together on a tree,
And neither told the other to depart.
For each would rather Death taste victory
Than claim himself their single broken heart.
And for their love they know a life divine.
And Death shall die at last in Palestine.

The Thirteenth Station

The Thirteenth Station

The Way of the Cross

The Thirteenth Station
Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross

He is dead, Mother, Jesus Christ is dead.
And you are left to taste the Blood of God,
To ponder every word he ever said,
And pave the road he sent his saints to trod.
You hold a lifeless body to your breast,
As once you held a son within your womb.
Despair shall linger long among the rest,
But Love has proved herself the darker doom.

Maria! He died because of me,
A ransom for the man who drove the nails.
Will you persist in equal agony
To teach my heart a love that never fails?
The dawn shall come though all the world should die.
But He is dead. Do you yet live? Do I?

The Twelfth Station

The Fourteenth Station

The Twelfth Station

The Way of the Cross

The Twelfth Station
Jesus Dies on the Cross

Forgive me Lord, I know what I have done.
Your broken body hangs upon a tree,
And see! my sin has blotted out the sun
That all may mourn the hope of what could be.
They said I would find strength among the weak,
But God has died in sorrow, and is lost.
The might of Rome has trampled down the meek,
And Judas weeps to measure up the cost.

Is pain the yoke that all might wear with ease?
Am I to walk the narrow way to death?
Is binding love the only chain that frees?
Am I to offer God this mortal breath?
Am I the dust you broke your heart to save-
A Son of Job in ignorance too brave?

The Eleventh Station

The Thirteenth Station

The Eleventh Station

The Way of the Cross

The Eleventh Station
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

Silent as a lamb before the slaughter,
I wonder that my heart has blood to beat.
Fearful as a man who holds his daughter,
I kiss the nails that pierce your hands and feet.
If I could pour myself upon this Hill
In trembling libation to your cross,
The rush of blood and tears my heart would spill
Should seem a drop beside your sea of loss.

I begged you once to stitch my broken heart,
To lift the Father’s curse from off my head,
To raise me to that paradise apart,
Where pain is joy, and death is ever dead.
But you have pierced my heart with iron nails,
And washed my soul in blood through all my wails.

The Tenth Station

The Twelfth Station

The Tenth Station

The Way of the Cross

The Tenth Station
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments.

I wandered out of Eden long ago
And looked in awe at heaven’s endless strife.
The sun made war against the driving snow,
And each and all conspired against my life.
For these I wove a thread around my skin,
But storms may rise from lands beyond the sea.
For these I wove my pleasure and my sin
Around a soul created bare in me.

I long to tear away these gilded weeds,
To die in Adam’s nakedness with you.
But fingers lose their strength where pleasure feeds;
The more I try, the less I seem to do.
Then give the strength to others on this Hill,
Those bloody hands that rend and tear and kill.

The Ninth Station

The Eleventh Station

The Ninth Station

The Way of the Cross

The Ninth Station
Jesus Falls the Third Time

I fell into a nightmare of desire,
And lost my soul in sighs from painted lips.
I fell into a sea of living fire,
And bathed my heart among the scuttled ships.
But I could not escape your searching glance,
Not even in the depths of blank despair.
Could any man escape, by wit or chance,
A pleading love that follows even there?

Forgive a wicked man so bent with pride
That I would test your love to Satan’s gate.
Forgive a foolish man that sought to hide
From noble heights that I esteemed too great.
Have mercy on a traitor to your love,
And I shall drain the cup that you drink of.

The Eighth Station

The Tenth Station

The Eighth Station

The Way of the Cross

The Eighth Station
Jesus Speaks to the Women of Jerusalem

Daughters weep, but do not weep for him.
Weep for yourselves, who stand at last alone,
Who live in dread of his immortal whim,
And count each breath against a tyrant’s loan.
Weep for your sons, who lie in graves afar,
Who fought for gods they did not even know,
And faded long before the morning star.
Weep long for these, and let this savior go.

Behold what fruit your pious tears beget-
The blood that flows from Golgotha will dry
And soon the hearts of Zion will forget
That ever came messiahs but to die.
Your savior has a single tale to tell,
That each shall walk a lonely path to Hell.

The Seventh Station

The Ninth Station

The Seventh Station

The Way of the Cross

The Seventh Station
Jesus Falls the Second Time

It seemed I held all beauty in my hand,
Like moonlight dancing in a single pool.
I swore that death would tear me from the land
Before the dawn should find my passion cool.
But shadow can dispel the brightest flame,
And those that can withstand the dark are few.
I spat upon the knowledge of your name,
And the cock crew.

In Babylon they call to me for song.
Your children weep and seek a hymn of hope.
They say that you shall soon forget our wrong;
I laugh to scorn and hand them each a rope.
For all shall see the Babel we have built
With bricks of sin and mortar of our guilt.

The Sixth Station

The Eighth Station