Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Dark Night Rises—Then the Dawn

Today at Mass we heard the Gospel of the margarets. You know the one—about the merchant with a high tolerance for risk, hunting for fine margarets. One day when a really valuable margaret catches his expert eye, he takes the gamble of his life, sells everything he owns, and buys it.

But that’s about pearls, right? Right. That’s what “Margaret” means. From the time I was a girl I had heard that my name comes from the Greek word for “pearl”—margaritári. From the time I was a girl I had also heard that Jesus compared love for the kingdom of God to the relentless search for the best pearl around. It had never been as personal to me, though, until one day about twenty years ago when I was making my daily Eucharistic hour of adoration. I was looking at the crucifix and thanking Jesus for giving his life for me. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, this Gospel passage came to mind. Oh my gosh, I thought, I’m the pearl, and that’s the price!

The only reason I can give my all for the kingdom is that Jesus Christ did it first. Frankly, that’s the only way he could urge us to sacrifice what is dear to us for something dearer. He knew that loving the Father would eventually entail loving us to death. By the outpouring of the Spirit through the outpouring of his life on the cross, he would buy us back for the Father, and in the process, begin to shape us together into the kingdom that’s worth giving our lives for.

This is “the essential point by which Christianity differs from all the other religions,” John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter preparing the Church for the new millennium. “Here, it is not simply a case of man seeking God, but of God who comes in Person to speak to man of himself and to show him the path by which he may be reached” (Tertio millennio adveniente, 6). This is what, more than anything else, keeps my faith and trust going in dark or difficult times. Jesus cared enough about me to seek me out and to give all he had and was for me: “…the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

I don’t know anyone directly affected by the violence upon moviegoers last week in Aurora,* Colorado, but I couldn’t help thinking of them as I meditated on this Gospel. Do you feel as personally attacked as I do? Only happenstance kept my sister, my cousin, my friend…or me from being counted among the night’s casualties. In fact, more than happenstance connects me to them all: our common citizenship, our common humanity, and in some cases, our common faith. Our common redemption certainly does.

Comforting a young adult after Mass

Some who read Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila’s column the week afterward probably gasped as they recognized yet another apparent twist of fate. I know I did. He recounted how joyfully his first week as Ordinary (head bishop) of Denver began, then how “stunned” he was only two days later as his “great joy turned to sorrow” for the people of this city in his archdiocese. Two short days before a horrifying rite of initiation. Two short days before he was called upon to strengthen his brothers and sisters (cf. Lk. 22:32). What could he tell them that would ease the pain or make sense of tragedy? Nothing. But he could and did “stand in solidarity” with them and recall the One who gave his all for them. It was this proclaimed faith that gave meaning to his decision to place the counseling services of Catholic Charities within reach of those who need them in these weeks:
“Tragedy breeds uncertainty because it undercuts the things we implicitly believe to be true—that we can go to school, or to work or to the movies safely. When those certainties are shaken, we question a lot.

“I imagine there were many questions after the Crucifixion. In the upper room, the Apostles asked themselves the same questions we ask ourselves. The Blessed Mother, too, who lost a child, was faced with the question of why such a tragedy had ever occurred….

“The questions ceased when they encountered the Resurrection.…[I]n the Risen Christ, they encountered victory over death and evil. They learned that unspeakable sin, like the unspeakable sin we have encountered, is defeated by the love of God. The love of the Father is stronger than the sting of death. The Resurrection proves that to be true.”
Those who lost loved ones or still watch other loved ones suffer may find words, even faith-filled words, cold comfort. After all, nothing will ever undo what a few minutes did. Survivors in Afghanistan, Darfur, Syria, and every violence-scarred spot on earth know this well. Faith in the Crucified and Risen One doesn’t offer an explanation for the inexplicable, but hope beyond it, even here and now. Who else offers as much? This is what Peter sensed when he answered Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Do you want to leave me, too?” “Lord,” Peter replied, “to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68).

It’s not a platitude to say that God took them to himself. God didn’t take their lives; somebody else did that. God just didn’t let him keep them. “Like a shepherd he will gather the lambs in his arms” (Is. 40:11). This is what moved Archbishop Aquila, Auxiliary Bishop Conley, and Pope Benedict XVI to give of themselves in word and deed for the pearls, the living stones, the kingdom of God entrusted to them. God seeks us out through those who share words of eternal life with us. Are we ready to let him do the same through us?
* “Aurora” means “dawn.”

Photo of Archbishop Aquila by James Baca/Denver Catholic Register

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