I have made the point in this Blog on a number of occasions that our society’s ever-increasing inability to see and accept that there are “tragic” dimensions to life that admit of no ethical resolve “this side of Paradise” leads to such unthinkable and unethical “solutions” to real-life’s painfully tragic limits as the creation and destruction of human embryos to remedy infertility, the redefinition of marriage to canonize same-sex sex, the intentional killing of the terminally ill, or the extermination of 90% of pre-born babies diagnosed (rightly or wrongly) with Down Syndrome (see here).
The Christian story of the Passion of Christ bears within it all of the tensions of human tragedy which find resolve in re-creating, redeeming, tear-wiping Triumph only after the awful finality of agony, torture and death; only after the Tomb is sealed by a lifeless stone and the humanity of God descends headlong into the deepest chasms of Hell.
Spe salvi. In hope we are saved, and hope-bearing Christians would never choose to face the tragic elements of life with a will bent on wrongful compromises with evil in order to alleviate and eradicate the tragic elements of this life. That said, the Samaritan Christian, bearing within the light of Resurrection already now, does all in his or her power to raise up the fallen, to shine the paschal rays of the rising Dawn into every dark Tomb, and to face the tragic elements life in manners that move with the grain of God’s justice, love, mercy and will that all be saved. Just as the martyr’s unwillingess to do evil that good may come of it implicates him or her in a fatal embrace with a tragic fate, so the Christian, ever-called to live such martyrdom, sees in every tragedy a moment of Christian witness, a call to imitate the Master, an encounter with the tragic love of God in Christ that has embraced our disfigured world so that, with Him, we might participate in the ultimate transfiguration of every human story in a new creation where “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Rev. 21:4-5)
“Walk with me”
When I lived in Des Moines, I had a young man walk up to me one day while I was reading in a coffee shop (my favorite pastime) and say to me, “I saw you make the sign of the cross. Are you a Christian?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He said with disarming bluntness, “I’m gay and I’m Christian, too. But here’s my problem. The churches I have wandered in and out of the last several years, since I came out, have either demonized or legitimized my orientation. And I feel lost in both those worlds. I don’t know you, and you’ll probably think I’m freaky, but I think God told me to talk to you. What I’m asking is that you don’t try to demonize my orientation or legitimize it. I just want to know if you’d be willing to walk with me?”
Needless to say, I was stupefied by his openness with a complete stranger, but even more by his willingness to face his profoundly painful personal history and inner struggles with such courage, and with a rare openness to living in ambiguity and uncertainty. I won’t reveal the rest of the story, but suffice to say his journey is a “way of the Cross,” marked by an abundant capacity to, as the Catechism words it, “unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC 2358).
All this thought was provoked by an absolutely brilliant reflection of Caryll Houselander (early-mid twentieth century lay Catholic ecclesiastical artist, mystic, popular religious writer and poet in Britain) that I read in the Magnificat this last week. She is a brilliant author, worth reading, and her insights always provoke new insights and convictions. Drink it in:
There are too many common sense Christians, afraid to spend themselves on anyone from whom they do not get visible results. They are ready with hard work for reform, they pour out good advice, they are proud to be realists who repudiate everything that seems to them to he impractical, including the poetry of Christ, but they have no use for those baffling human creatures who won’t—or can’t—play the game by their rules. These “realists” refuse to see that there are problems that can’t be solved, griefs which cannot be healed, conditions which cannot be cured. They are impatient with the suffering they cannot end; unable to accept its reality, they wash their hands of it, because they cannot, so they think, do anything about it. But we cannot make an end of Christ’s suffering, for as long as the world goes on, the Passion of Christ will go on in his members; and he will ask, not for his suffering to be mitigated, but for sympathy. In Gethsemane Christ tried to awaken his apostles, not because they could take away his agony, but because they could give him their compassion.