The God That Failed

Our God lies in the tomb this day. He has been cru­el­ly tor­tured and mur­dered. His fol­low­ers, those to whom he had revealed his glo­ry and pow­er through­out three long years full of won­ders and truth, have scat­tered and fled, hud­dled togeth­er in fear, all hope drained from them.

Yet as Chris­tians we believe, not that Christ’s defeat was short-lived, but that he was nev­er defeat­ed at all. The unspeak­able suf­fer­ings of the cru­ci­fix­ion were under­tak­en by Jesus, not inflict­ed upon him. He did not endure his tor­tures; he embraced them. His suf­fer­ing was excru­ci­at­ing, but it was suf­fered with unfath­omable love, the love he held — and holds — for each one of us. The cross was the vic­to­ry of Christ, not his defeat, his unan­swer­able rebuke of hatred and sin and death. “Nails were nev­er enough to hold the God-Man fas­tened to the Cross had love not held Him cap­tive first,” writes the late John Car­di­nal Wright in his mag­nif­i­cent lit­tle vol­ume of reflec­tions on the Sev­en Last Words (Words in Pain, p. 44).

Today, the cross is indeed still “a stum­bling block” and “fool­ish­ness” to the world. Even many Chris­tians find the image trou­bling, won­der­ing what sort of God could will such a thing to occur, how this hor­ri­ble death could have any place in our redemp­tion. I am no the­olo­gian, only a trou­bled believ­er on my jour­ney, but I hold fast to the hope that the Cru­ci­fied offers me. For me this is not some sote­ri­o­log­i­cal account­ing, a cos­mic tit for tat to off­set the offense of our myth­i­cal first par­ents. The Cross is God’s ulti­mate demon­stra­tion of how much love will do, even when giv­en no rea­son to do so.

God is love. The ques­tion that asser­tion rais­es in the con­text of the Cru­ci­fix­ion is not, I believe, “How could a lov­ing God wish such a death upon His Son?” but rather “How can we fail to respond to a love that would give so much?” The chal­lenge is not to the nature of God but to us: what are we going to make of our lives and our world to attempt to jus­ti­fy such an extrav­a­gant ges­ture on the part of the Son of God?

Dark days of hope

We are enter­ing into the Tridu­um, the most sacred days in the Chris­t­ian cal­en­dar, and for me the most painful days of the year.

I come into these East­er cel­e­bra­tions with a lot of bag­gage. I have dwelt on this long and hard; words on this top­ic have pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in these pages. I won’t pre­tend that any tremen­dous heal­ing has tak­en place in the four years since. Cer­tain­ly mar­riage and par­ent­hood have imposed sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on my out­look and reac­tions to things. I have grown, and am still grow­ing. But the road to heal­ing, to whole­ness, is exceed­ing­ly long.

For the first time in sev­er­al years — per­haps for the first time ever — I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cel­e­brate the Tridu­um alone. Of course, no litur­gi­cal wor­ship can hap­pen alone; it is by def­i­n­i­tion the activ­i­ty of a wor­ship­ing com­mu­ni­ty. But I know well how to be alone in a crowd, and the wel­com­ing glow of com­mu­ni­ty has sel­dom warmed me. I hope in this holy and sacred sea­son that I can find the grace to turn a cor­ner, to fur­ther my rein­te­gra­tion into the lov­ing Peo­ple of God.

This last is not a thing I take light­ly. My past has been all about the Church, and now I am con­fi­dent once again that my future is to be large­ly about the Church as well. But to do so I need to relearn how to be a Chris­t­ian. Not in the sense of faith, of being a believ­er, but in terms of rela­tion­ship, of feel­ing myself a part of a human com­mu­ni­ty. I don’t know where to begin, oth­er than to go and pray with oth­er Chris­tians, and to keep doing so. Ther­fore, with only my lone­ly heart, I go to cel­e­brate the sac­ri­fi­cial love of my God, and to dare to open myself to grace, to love, and to hope.

whining and name-calling

I am struck by the irony that in the same week that Catholics fall over them­selves to cheer Arch­bish­op Tim­o­thy Dolan’s blog post to the New York Times, accus­ing the paper of (the hor­ror!) anti-Catholi­cism, that these same Catholics are quick to share head­lines like “Jihadist gun­man kills Amer­i­can Troops in Fort Hood” with all their friends via Face­book.

I am not going to com­ment exten­sive­ly on the Arch­bish­op’s words; he says noth­ing new, adds noth­ing to the con­ver­sa­tion, mere­ly repeats the same old com­plaints with fresh new exam­ples. Yes, there is anti-Catholic bias in the press, and in our soci­ety. Much of it has long roots in the tragedies of his­tor­i­cal strife and divi­sion, while some is of more recent flour­ish­ing. He even almost acknowl­edges that some of it has been well-earned by the actions and inac­tions of the Church itself. With all due respect, Your Excel­len­cy, I would be far more inspired to hear you step for­ward to be part of the solu­tion to this peren­ni­al prob­lem rather than rehash­ing the same thread­bare defen­sive pos­tur­ing.

And then there is the news from Fort Hood.

This was an Amer­i­can tragedy, a heinous crime of one Amer­i­can sol­dier against an indis­crim­i­nate num­ber of his broth­ers- and sis­ters-in-arms. A por­trait of this man has emerged in the media, and only more time and inves­ti­ga­tion by the com­pe­tent author­i­ties will reveal how com­plete or accu­rate that is. From what is avail­able to read, it seems almost cer­tain that his reli­gion — and his expe­ri­ence of hatred from his fel­low sol­diers in response to his reli­gion — had some­thing to do with his cru­el actions. Every­one has their own moti­va­tions for their actions, and for any­one with deeply-held reli­gious beliefs, those beliefs are going to play a sig­nif­i­cant rôle in any major actions, right or wrong, that they choose to take. But to draw a sim­plis­tic con­nec­tion between “he opened fire on a room full of Amer­i­can sol­diers” and “he was a Mus­lim” is reck­less and divi­sive, espe­cial­ly when the event hap­pens in the midst of an armed camp engaged in a war that has — thanks to elo­quent Chris­tian­i­ty of our 43rd pres­i­dent — acquired the atti­tudes and trap­pings of a Cru­sade.

Giv­en the state of the world today, it is an easy leap to equate the Islam­ic faith of the shoot­er at Fort Hood with his actions. But as Chris­tians (and we Catholics are sup­pos­ed­ly Chris­tians, you may recall) we are called to not make the easy leaps: to fear of the oth­er, to prej­u­dice, to hatred and divi­sive­ness. We are called to love as Christ loved, which was gen­er­ous­ly and unend­ing­ly, even to those we may tem­porar­i­ly see fit to call our ene­mies. I must stress that “tem­porar­i­ly” again, for in the End there can be only Love, and our Chris­t­ian voca­tion is not to idly and arro­gant­ly wait for the Oth­er to come join us. Each of us, indi­vid­u­al­ly and as the Liv­ing Church, must run out to meet and embrace our ene­my

The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation

Eager­ness. That sin­gle word sums up this entire sto­ry for me, as well as the cen­tral chal­lenge that it sparks in my soul every time I reflect upon this mys­tery.

Mary learns that her female rela­tion Eliz­a­beth is expect­ing a child, despite a life­time of shame­ful “bar­ren­ness” for her and her hus­band. Mary is eager to share in the joy of this long-despaired-of event; she also wants to share her own joy with Eliz­a­beth (she has news of her own, after all). And so she grabs her purse and goes run­ning off over the hills all the way to Eliz­a­beth’s house.

And when Mary final­ly gets there (pos­si­bly out of breath from all that run­ning) Eliz­a­beth comes out of the house. She knows that Mary is already car­ry­ing Some­one very spe­cial inside her (the Holy Spir­it is giv­ing away every­one’s sur­pris­es in this sto­ry). So she hur­ries out, eager to greet Mary, and to meet Jesus.

Where in my life am I run­ning out to meet Jesus? Or where do I rush eager­ly to share the joy of my rela­tion­ship with Jesus with oth­ers? “Nowhere” serves as a pret­ty effi­cient answer to both of these queries. That can’t be a good thing.

Mary, kin­dle a fer­vent joy in my too-com­pla­cent soul. Help me to be like Eliz­a­beth, run­ning to meet Jesus when­ev­er He comes into my life.

The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

Mary did­n’t plan to be the Moth­er of God. We are giv­en no hint in the Gospels at what she did plan. It may have been an ordi­nary life, full of ordi­nary dreams: hus­band, chil­dren, home — dreams no less mean­ing­ful for being ordi­nary.

But then a winged Ital­ian shows up one morn­ing, bran­dish­ing a tulip, and tells her that God has a plan for her that she nev­er imag­ined. And she accepts this divine plan. It is not a holy quest that she is offered, or an hero­ic mis­sion. She is asked to play a part, to ful­fil a rôle.

She could freak out; it would be an under­stand­able reac­tion. But she does­n’t. She says, “Yeah, okay.” Her sim­ple, faith-filled Fiat is a match­less mod­el of accep­tance, humbly and earnest­ly embrac­ing a life unlike any­thing she had planned for or even imag­ined pos­si­ble, and trust­ing in God to make it turn out.

I want­ed my call to be as clear as Mary’s was. I wait­ed for years for a defin­i­tive “This-is-what-God-wants-you-to-do-with-your-life” moment that I could respond to with my own Fiat. But that moment nev­er came for me, nor for almost any­one else I know, in the sem­i­nary or out. It is tempt­ing to say, “Well, it just does­n’t work that way,” but I hard­ly think I am qual­i­fied to make such a sweep­ing and het­ero­dox asser­tion. So I will stick with the per­son­al: it has­n’t worked that way for me.

And I am still learn­ing to live with that, to be com­fort­able guid­ing my life by prayer­ful guess­work rather than cer­tain­ty. I expect­ed voca­tion and dis­cern­ment to be mat­ters of cer­tain­ty, and maybe they are, and there will be a burn­ing bush for me just around the next cor­ner. But I don’t think so.

Mary, teach me to let go, to accept the path I have been set upon. Teach me, too, to be open to the sub­tle and qui­et prompt­ings of my soul, for it is there that my annun­ci­a­tion will be found. Help me to accept, and to brave­ly car­ry out, what­ev­er plan God has for me.