The events of the past several days at Penn State have been quite disturbing to watch, especially for those of us who grapple with self-reflection and trying to make some kind of sense out of the actions of other people and how it could ever be possible. What goes on in the mind of people that leads to the decisions and choices they make will never be known, unless you can begin to identify yourself in the situation and find some kind of empathy for all involved, most particularly, the victims of such horrific acts and the irresponsibility of those involved.
For years, most of my life, for that matter, I have considered myself a fan of the Nittany Lions and all that they have stood for, which obviously makes the conflict within all the more real at the moment; integrity, hard work, dedication, family, team, and the list goes on and on. Yet, none of this happens in a bubble, as much as we like to put it there. Just ask the Church as it still continues to deal with, or not, with its own issues regarding sexual abuse. However, for decades and beyond, that is what we have believed about this institution, a great one at that; but once again, just as with the Church, we find ourselves disillusioned that something like this can ever happen. We expected more. We believed more.
The reality is, any institution made up of human beings, whether it’s PSU or the Church, is prone to darkness and sin, and once trapped in the illusion of what people want us to be or think we should be, this some kind of “perfect” body, we begin the process of entering into dangerous waters, because we know that we can never live up to those expectations; and yet, we let the illusion of perfection continue, and increasingly becomes more and more difficult to let go of because we don’t want to let down the people around us; we want to be liked and loved, we want, at times, to believe that it is all true, the illusion, that is, even though we know it’s not.
The true test now, for this academic institution, for the people involved, for the Church, for we as fellow sinners, is when the illusion is finally cracked and the realization that perfection is a mere fairy tale in this life, how will we respond? When the cross of our lives becomes a living reality and intense suffering is unavoidable, what do we do? Do we try to recreate the bubble and illusion of perfection, as the Church so often wants to do since it’s own scandal, or can we grapple with and come to terms with, that this perfection can never be me, but I can live a life of integrity by acknowledging my wrong-doings, reconciling, forgiving, healing, and ultimately, led to action in advocating for the true victims of our sinful actions.