The shadow of the crucifix loomed over the altar and the steps leading to it. Last week, Fr. Mike Schmitz pointed to its origin, an image of Christ crucified suspended over the center of the building, and spoke, of all the things in the world, about persevering through adversity.

He very likely did not know– if he did he did not mention it–that the parish from which he was addressing a worldwide Internet audience knows a thing or two about this topic. The community hosting Father Schmitz was not only enduring a pandemic and the usual insta-anti-Catholic opposition hovering as closely as the cell phones in the pews. They were recovering from one of the worst blows a Catholic community can withstand.

The crucifix to which Fr. Schmitz was pointing was recently moved from its original placement to the side of the altar. The man who ordered its relocation was the former pastor. It was his last act just before he was indicted on nine counts of rape of an altar server.

The victim was likely one of my classmates. I didn’t know. None of us had the slightest idea. The pastor committed these crimes at another parish while working as a music minister, before he was a priest, but such horrific wounds seem to exist out of time. This evil is so fully the opposite of the great reaches of kindness and flourishing love of which we are capable that the foulness of it shudders through the parish, the city, the nation, the Church, the planet. The damage is vast, and it is perpetual. To see hands consecrated to perform the most sacred of rituals now justly in handcuffs for the most sickening of crimes is a particular form of nausea.

But before the former pastor ever knew that law enforcement was rifling through a storage unit containing potential evidence, before the national news cameras descended on the lawn of the parish preschool, this man ordered the defining image of suffering innocence removed from the periphery to hang smack in the middle of the church.

This weekend, the shadow of the crucifix fell on an entirely different sort of man, one who applies comforting words and the stinging antiseptic of truth to these unbindable wounds. Both priests wear the same Roman collar, but could not be further apart in their understanding of it.

One way to prepare for adversity, Father Schmitz said, is to commit to making ourselves and our children dangerous. Not in a shiv-wielding, abandoned-building, Dateline sort of fashion, but dangerous to the worldliness of the world. To apathy. To exploitation. To hatred and revenge and depersonalization.

How does the world become– and stay– so very broken?

Partly, I think, because we allow it to remain so. I do it all the time. Sports might operate as not only a pleasant distraction from everyday life, but also as a blinder to the parts of it that most require our awareness.

It’s so easy. It is so easy– to sink into harmless lumps of consumption. It scrolls past in every form of entertainment on every possible topic. Social media extends the invitation to view people as pixels, and athletes as commodities. MLB culture is guilty of this, but not more so than other sports; we who re-tote numbers on an at-bat basis are merely catching up to the likes of football and basketball, where potential players are measured fingertip to fingertip and judged by how high they can leap to a wooden box.

Are pro sports bad? Well, no. The Bengals are bad. The Detroit Red Wings are very bad. Sports in themselves are fine, and can, in fact, be very good.

Tuning our total awareness to what is supposed to function as a healthy distraction is a matter of perspective and personal limits. But as we exit from a year-long winter of suffering, barred from the ball park for so long, just now reaching our fingertips towards a few hours sitting in the sun as the river flows past, it’s tempting to rush into the warm open seats and forget what we might have gained this past year.

And what we have gained, in vastly varying degrees, is a knowledge of suffering. In some ways it drew us closer. In others, it pushed us further apart.

We can profit by this suffering or prolong it by sinking further into the wounds it left. We can enjoy a few innings in the sunshine with a friend or a nephew or a co-worker, or we can anxiously hunch over a flickering set of stats while various family members, having long ago given up on gaining our attention, leave the room in silence.

Sometimes our suffering is to the side; in other seasons it is center-front, shared by all, ignored by none. Others might inflict the pain, or it could arrive through our own choices.

What matters is how we act when we find ourselves in its shadow.

13 Responses

  1. Sliotar

    My sympathies to your likely classmate …

    However, if you are a lifelong Catholic, you should know by now that “the Church” (still) hasn’t faced it’s corruption … and isn’t likely to.

    It’s as much a “Big Business” as any entity in the world … with all of the power-mongering and cover-ups to retain its power that come with such status.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      You are correct. That’s what happens when flawed human beings take on the impossible job of undertaking a Godly “project.” We’re gonna screw it up, and badly. Unfortunately, terribly flawed people have been running the Church since Peter, and if you look back through Church history, there have been even worse periods than what we are enduring now– exactly as you have said. Imagine what it was like when the Church also had immense civil power.

      That doesn’t mean we accept it and shrug our shoulders. It means it’s on me to do what I can for my time. My way of “being dangerous” is to pray for improvement and try to treat others well in my life, to support churches that are administering correctly (they exist!), and become involved in catechism for the next generation. And I encourage Church members, both laity and ordained, who are undertaking this difficult work as they should. One of these people is Fr. Schmitz, who, although not perfect (and would be the first to tell you so), is fighting the good fight.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  2. Sliotar

    Also … did you not post here, just earlier this month or near then … that you were protesting (or considering) .. and not attending Reds games?

    Paying money to wear a mask, endure numerous restrictions, on my personal time … just to see the Reds strike out 18-20 at-bats in a game …. doesn’t feel enjoyable, sunshine or not. Just my opinion.

    Yet, I will watch/listen to every game … watch my fantasy team’s results … and be in contests nightly on DraftKings.

    How people consume MLB … especially the lousy Reds product of our adulthood … should not be judged, IMO.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I don’t think it should be judged either. I’m sorry if it came across that way. Everyone has their personal views, limits, and weaknesses. I just meant that it’s alarmingly easy to take innocent or neutral items, like baseball or the internet or social media, and twist them to unhealthy ends.

      Chad just wrote about this for his Substack blog. He’s taking your tactic of watching and listening, but not paying to attend.

      I’m still figuring it out. I think a lot of people are.

  3. Rednat

    good stuff Mary Beth. i have gone to a few nba pacer games this year and i got to tell it reminds me of the movie pet Sematary. we have have brought sports back to life but it is a darker, scarier experience. full of computer based health questionnaires . gestapo ushers scolding you if you dare lower your mask, limited concession choices. forget using cash. not sure if you are allowed to cheer? may spread the virus. no hi fives allowed.

    i don’t even own a smart phone so i really don’t have the technology to enter gabp. m y wife hates baseball so unless my son invites me to a game i likely will never go to another reds game again. But honestly it hasn’t bothered me as much as i thought it would. i don’t think attending baseball games in 2021 will be nearly as fun and free spirited as they were in 2019!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      High-fives are now illegal?!

      Now that’s just sad. /Dana Carvey Ross Perot impression

      One of my favorite memories of the 1990 run (and most Notre Dame games) was screaming my face off and slamming into total strangers.

    • Eric the Red

      Gestapo ushers? There’s hyperbole, and there’s something way beyond hyperbole. Please read a history book.

      Speaking of which….it’s pretty remarkable that in the middle of a pandemic we even have spectator sports, even with grave injustices like having to wear a mask or limited concession choices.

      The whole smart-phone ticket thing sounds like a data grab and/or an attempt to restrict re-sales.

  4. Scott Benhase

    Mary Beth,

    Such a wonderful and painful reflection. As a long ago RC who left to become an Episcopalian and then, with God’s sense of humor, found myself a priest and then a bishop, I truly appreciate your vulnerability in writing what you wrote. You, like any of us who take risks to speak the truth, face snark or worse. Growing up in Cincinnati, my love for the Reds was always a welcome diversion from the rest of my life. It still is at 64 years old. I am convinced each March that the Reds will phone me and beg me to come pitch for them because they just can’t make it to the WS without me! My obsession is not only diversional, it’s delusional. So it goes. Thanks for your writing. You have a gift!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Rev. Benhase, many thanks for stopping to read and taking the time to leave such kind words. Can you fill in at shortstop?

  5. Mark Moore


    Thank you for this heartfelt article. As a fellow person of faith (non-Catholic) it grieves me to see this type of thing happen and then get covered up. It is most assuredly not from the God I know, love, and serve.

    I am finally eligible to schedule a shot, though getting one is still a challenge in my area. I’m completely on board with the idea of needing some distractions. My life of Zoom meetings in my comfortable little office is productive, but still isolated. I still see “Baseball is Life” and hope we get to a forward state soon on multiple levels.

    For today, I at least have one basketball game to follow as my Syracuse Orange take on the SDSU Aztecs. That’s a one-by-one thing … after that it’s lacrosse season.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Many thanks for your kind words, Mark. The season is already in swing for this Lacrosse aunt! It’s wonderful to cheer the not-so-little guys on in person 🙂 Happy vaccine-ing.

  6. Scott C

    As a retired Minister, (Protestant Independent Christian) I feel your pain. When those that lead, fall, it affects the whole of those they are to lead. As a young beginning minister, the lead minister had several dalliances with different married women in the church. One actually had to undergo psychiatric care. I was left trying to pull the pieces together until a new lead minister could be found. I remember sitting in the hospital attempting to counsel her. The only two things that calmed her was quoting the 23’rd Psalm and singing Amazing Grace. The church did survive and under capable leadership (not mine) is now thriving. My prayers are with you and your church.

    PS Your reply to Sliotar was right on point. You are on the right path.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Many thanks, Scott. I like pulling the Protestants together 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience. I can’t imagine the pressure and worry that must have accompanied such a situation. Your outreach is extremely kind. Many thanks for reading.