I have a confession to make. About ten years ago, I was what I call a “Tomb Painter.” This comes from the gospel of Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” I was a devout Catholic woman who worked very hard to make a Catholic priest look good. I “painted” his tomb.
As a child raised in the Catholic Church, I really believed that the presence of Christ ONLY lived inside the parish priest. Now I know that presence of Christ resides in ALL of us, many people just don’t know it. I didn’t know that the presence of Christ also resided in ME! This was my sin. This is what caused me to become a “Tomb Painter.” I had put Jesus Christ into a little box. I had put Jesus Christ into one little priest. I didn’t understand the resurrection. I was like Mary Magdalene in the garden beside Golgotha, painting the tomb of Christ, still believing that the bones and spirit of Jesus Christ lay inside that tomb.
Catholic priests struggle with their humanity like every one of us. Catholic priests who have some kind of sexual sin in their lives will pull everyone around them down to their level. Vulnerable, uneducated women will submit to living and functioning at that disgraced level like I did. I was the lampstand for my priest’s light instead of confidently shining my own light of Christ into the world. In psychological terms this is called codependency. I had minimized the presence of Christ alive in me and exalted the presence of Christ alive in a priest. I was too busy whitewashing a tomb instead of living in the peace, joy, and love of Christ.
Mature lay Catholics are NOT called to be a light to the Catholic Church inside the walls of the Church. Lay Catholics are called to be a light to the world. Lay Catholics are supposed to find comfort and strength from their relationships inside the Church and from time spent worshipping inside the Church. I had gotten so ensnared in my various parish ministries that the light of Christ in me, which was called to shine forth into the world, was stuck shining into a dark tomb.
Catholic women do not need to be ordained to the priesthood in order to be a light to the world. Catholic priests who are living holy, faithful lives will not feel threatened by lay Catholic women who are sharing the love of Christ with a hurting world. Only Catholic priests who are whitewashed tombs will fail to empower and support women who are living out the Catholic teachings in the larger world.
For the benefit of all Catholics, it is important for lay Catholic women to be able to quickly identify the Catholic priests who are really “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” These priests are suffering from a shame-based identity. Therefore, these priests will project their own inner shame onto others. This is what ensnared me for several years. These priests can never be satisfied no matter how exalted, honored, or esteemed they are because they are attempting to fill a void in their own hearts with the adoration of other people – instead of with the presence of Christ.
No matter how many times I tried to paint the walls of the tomb, I could not bring healing into the hurting sinful lives of the Catholic priests in my past. Only Jesus Christ can bring about conversion in the lives of these priests. This is why all Catholics are called to pray for our priests. If evil forces are looking for a home to bring about destruction, what better home than destroying the heart of a Catholic priest who is called to bring forth the presence of Christ into the world?
The Catholic Church of my childhood suffered with many priests who allowed themselves to become conduits of evil forces instead of conduits of good. Everyday Catholic priests are assaulted by evil forces and enticed to surrender to forces of death and destruction. I appeal to all Christians of every faith tradition to realize that they are not exempt from the forces of evil anymore than the Catholic priests from my childhood were exempt.
I hope that all Catholics, and other Christians of good-will, will pray fervently for the healing of the Catholic priesthood. Jesus Christ raised people from the dead. Now I know that only Jesus Christ can raise the white-washed tombs I had painted in my past. My message to young Catholic women my daughter’s age is: “Don’t be a ‘Tomb Painter’ like I was. Own the light of Christ alive inside of you. Be a light to the world, not to the Church.”