Saturday, October 21, 2017

Redeeming our national conscience

Corruption is the offspring of power and the absence of love.

This week's news oozed with the stench of alleged sexual harassment and rape, enabled by bystanders who stood silent, unable to muster moral courage in the face of scandal. From Hollywood to Washington D.C., from movie moguls to presidents, our nation has watched as woman after woman stepped forward and said, "Me, too." They described a corporate and institutional culture where men at the top felt entitled to  treat women, both employees and colleagues, as toys for their prurient pleasure. 

No segment of our society is immune from the abuse of authority, not the Church; not academia; not athletics; not the media. Even children are unsafe. 

Searching for some peace on Friday evening, I witnessed a rare and candid conversation between a clergyman and an A-list actor and producer. The live event called (re)Encounter Chicago is an annual spiritual revival for young adults hosted by the Archdiocese of Chicago. The archbishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich, sat center stage across from a humble Mark Wahlberg. They shared their personal lives in front of a couple thousand faithful at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion, who chose to listen to a praise band, rapper and a litany of Christian testimony from genuinely inspiring speakers. 

Both men come from Catholic homes with nine children. And that's where the similarity ends. Haling from Omaha, Nebraska, Cupich compared his discernment and religious vocation to "the way people fall in love and get married." He deftly interviewed Wahlberg, who grew up in Dorchester, a Boston, Massachusetts, neighborhood, where drugs and trouble seduced him after his parents divorced when he was only 11. At (re)Encounter, he confessed to dropping out of high school and falling deep into crime and violence before adulthood. But when the cell door slammed behind him, Wahlberg had already reached out to his parish priest. "It was the first time I was sober in years."

Today, the married father of four, challenged by his wily 14-year-old daughter, starts each day with about 25 minutes of prayer and spiritual reading. "I won't do anything else until I've prayed." The secret to his energy is a 7:30 p.m. bedtime and a mandatory eight hours of sleep, followed by an intense workout and phone calls to his mom and east coast business interests before the family rises for the day. Wahlberg built a chapel in his home and sends his kids to Catholic school. Although he attends Mass every Sunday and  is involved in his Beverly Hills, California parish, he doesn't force his children to go with him every week. Wahlberg hopes his example of prayerful, hard work will pay off and they will one day want what he has.

In his forties, Wahlberg went back to high school to earn his diploma and he prides himself on working hard at everything he does, doing his best and leaving the rest to God. 

"We are blessed to have a fresh start every day," Wahlberg explained. 

If we could only encourage more of our leaders and celebrities to step forward and share the truth about their corruption and redemption it would help us remember we have not permanently lost our way. It might also inspire some of us to step up and blow the whistle on those who are exploiting the vulnerable.

It takes courage to conquer evil, including that in our own hearts. 

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