Yesterday our sewer main backed up. I happened upon the grisly scene when I entered the basement. I stood transfixed, an overflowing basket of laundry on my hip and a stench in my nose. At first I didn’t realize what I was looking at. I got angry, my mind racing to assign blame to the horror I was beholding.
“JOHN PAUL!” I bellowed up the stairs, certain that the mess was a case of litter-box cleaning gone hideously awry.
Are my kids ever going to be old enough to be responsible for their own chores? Why would he dump the litter box on the ground down here? Why is it wet? Oh…
Once I realized that it was raw sewage we were dealing with, my anger melted away. First into disbelief and then to shame for having yelled at my poor 6-year-old, and finally to horror as I realized that I was the grown-up who was going to have to deal with this.
“Sorry buddy,” I called up the stairs to the wrongly accused, “there’s something wrong with the pipes. Tell everyone to go into the backyard until I figure this out.”
The rest of the day passed in a blur of phone calls and sewer technicians tromping in and out of the basement and the sound of many toilets being flushed over and over again. Nearly 8 hours and $500 dollars later I was crouched down scrubbing away at the horrific aftermath (using the cat’s litter scoop, appropriately enough) and willing myself not to vomit and add to my misery.
Dave and I laughed about the entire situation over drinks later that night, shaking our heads in regret that we had neglected to take immediate action on the results of the pipe inspection we’d had performed last August before we’d closed on the house. A main-line cleanout must have fallen to the bottom of our laundry list of things needing immediate attention once we moved in. So while we were tearing up dirty carpet and peeling back stained wood paneling, our pipes, the very guts of our home, were continuing to deteriorate. Every month that went by where we paid attention to some cosmetic detail rather than addressing a crucial functional problem, we were skating by on borrowed time.
In our defense, the report really did slip our minds. Or at least, it slipped my mind. I was so focused on making our house beautiful that I was not super concerned with anything of a more practical nature. When I did think of the less glamorous stuff that needed to happen – installing a radon system in the basement, having the asbestos popcorn removed from the ceilings, etc – I would brush it aside, telling myself we’d take care of it “someday.”
Meanwhile, it was really important that we install hardwood floors in our dining room. We scrimped and saved and stretched uncomfortably far to make it happen, and I told myself it was essential because the kids would spill food there! It had to be a hard surface! We didn’t want to waste money installing an inferior product that we’d just be updating one day anyway…
So we did it, and our house looked better and better. At least on the surface.
The thing with deferred maintenance is that it usually ends up costing you more, in the long run. Sure, you don’t have to take that initial painful hit by dealing with the problem when it first presents, but as the rot progresses, it often does more damage than even the initial discovery would have yielded. The $100 we “saved” by postponing a main line cleaning ballooned into a $500 emergency situation, draining our resources and making a disgusting mess that affected the entire family.
The Church finds herself in a similar situation today. Deferred maintenance which allowed evil to take hold. Rot spreading silently through the ranks, corrupting and defiling when it should have been swiftly and relentlessly exposed to the light. Horrific crimes plowed under and buried while the facade remained polished, presenting an attractive – and unrealistic – image to the outside.
Shame on Dave and I, as parents, for not taking action sooner and making sure our house was well maintained, safe, and reliable. Thankfully, our failure to act will yield nothing more harmful than some traumatic memories of mommy yelling unrepeatable words and dry heaving while carrying trash bags to and from the basement.
The damage the Church is suffering now, and will continue to suffer in the months and years to come, will be far worse.
I am horrified, as a Catholic, by the stories that are coming to light because of the now-Archbishop McCarrick situation. (Click here for a balanced assessment of the issue if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
I am horrified as a mother.
I am horrified as a mother of sons.
I am horrified as a friend to good and holy priests, and as a Catholic under the jurisdiction of a good and holy bishop.
People will leave over this. People will walk away from Christ, who has the words of eternal life, because of the failure of some of His shepherds. People walked in Judas’ time, and they will walk in Theodore’s time, and woe to those who cause these little ones to suffer. It would be better for them to be cast into the sea with a heavy millstone around their necks than to cause that suffering.
We should never defer the maintenance. Bring it out into the light, all of it. Let us once and for all drag everything out into the light and put our houses in order. That goes for the clergy as well as the laity. The pornography. The child pornography. The homosexual behavior. The pedophila. The copies of 50 Shades of Grey and the innocent online affairs that “don’t hurt anyone,” really.
There is no such thing as a private sin. There is no injury done to the Body of Christ that does not affect all of its members.
Lord, have mercy. Help us get our house in order. No matter what the cost.