As we approach the Jubilee of Mercy, I have been trying to jot down thoughts on mercy as they come to me. I will share one here I wrote down Sunday:
Insomnia seems to be a cross bound to parenthood. Worry about your children, their future, the past, your failures. Such dark things plague the night. A friend who suffers similar night terrors calls this not the “dark night” but the “black night” of the soul. She’s a mom of adult children and says she believes it’s vicarious suffering, redemptive blackness for them. Green Mile style. Hidden combat on their behalf … For me it’s mercy that saves me from sinking from darkness into despair. “Jesus, I trust in you” is, of course, the motto of mercy. As I am assailed by evils, the terrible sight of failure, the sting of regrets, chaotic fears — I place myself within the shore-less and fathomless sea of mercy. I thought, mercy is the healing balm that flows from love slain under the blows of evil. Last night I let go, succumbed to it, surrendered the blows to love. Flawless is not the point. At once, Psalm 91:7; Psalm 131:2; Habakkuk 3:17-19; Matthew 6:25-34; Romans 8:28, 38-39 in succession washed over me and all the darkness of my inner tomb was transubstantiated. Still dark, same sins and failures and regrets, just full of dark hope now. Paradox. Psalm 4:8 lulled me to sleep: “I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” The safety that nothing is lost in the Kingdom, even the dross becomes gold. As I drift off, the thousand holes torn in my soul spring water out onto the parched earth. I laughed with barren Sarah.
Fr. Jim Polich of the diocese of Des Moines Iowa died four years ago on this feast, shortly after midnight on the Solemnity of Christ the King. The evening before he died, my wife, a friend and I visited his bedside in the hospice. He had been unresponsive for 9 days. We spoke with him. I read aloud the passage from Luke’s Gospel he had written his dissertation on. Luke 5:1-11. My wife sang to him the spiritual song, Give Me Jesus. And then all three of us sang the Salve Regina. After all this, he let out a groaning sound that sounded intentional. My wife said, “It’s okay to go now, Father. You’ve served Jesus well. You can go to Him.” We all said, “We love you Fr. Jim.” We left in silence. Hours later, the servant-priest departed this life to meet the King. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord. May Fr. Jim rest in peace for all ages with the great High Priest.
There was a venerable tradition in the middle ages of taking “courtly love songs,” popular romantic ballads, and allegorizing them into spiritual canticles that unfold with deep feeling the diverse exigencies of faith. Exactly as the biblical Song of Songs does. Being a theological nerd, I often pass contemporary music through that same filter spontaneously, sometimes to great personal effect. Last weekend, my wife and I were listening to a local band and dancing. My wife makes me love dancing, though no one can ever make me good at it. They started to play Swedish House Mafia’s, Don’t You Worry Child. As they sang the chorus, I experienced an overwhelming rush of visceral trust in God that, though all good things pass, they will be found again in the Kingdom. It’s been a profound grief in me of late as my children grow and prepare to leave home. That trust has remained.
So here’s the song if you care to hear it through my lens:
The recent terrorist violence in Paris, like all tragic events, has provoked countless reactions and responses. Calls for a just war, ruthless retribution, eschewing fear, reinforcing mistrust, offering forgiveness. It’s all very complex. Those who hope to bring clarity with simple answers inevitably fail. Various words chosen in response reflect and create a very different realities, propose very different futures for humanity. That said, the Jubilee of Mercy is only weeks away. It proposes a single word of response that, for Christians, defines the adaquacy of all others. Mercy, fully revealed deep in the open side of a dead God, offers the world a revolutionary new logic for responding to all violence and evil; a theo-logic revealed by the One Word forever spoken by the eternal Father. Moses heard it spoken (Ex 34:6) as God’s very Name.
Mercy is who God is in the face of evil: Christ crucified.
I’ve been thinking of this at night when I can’t sleep. Quelle différence? What language do we Christians bring to this tragedy, what words do we speak that refuse to surrender to the logic of violence and open fresh vistas of hope? One Eucharistic Prayer says this:
For though the human race
is divided by dissension and discord,
yet we know that by testing us,
you change our hearts
to prepare them for reconciliation.
Even more, by your Spirit you move human hearts
that enemies may speak to each other again,
adversaries may join hands,
and peoples seek to meet together.
By the working of your power
it comes about, O Lord,
that hatred is overcome by love,
revenge gives way to forgiveness,
and discord is changed to mutual respect.
Then my wife sent me a simple news story. No sophisticated analysis. A bit naive, really. A father and a son. Like the father in the movie Life is Beautiful, this father struggled to offer his son a protective language that proposed a response to evil; a language capable of helping a child face evil. This language is born in a world vastly other that the world inhabited by the terrorists. Yet it’s naive. But in some ways, it’s like the seemingly naive author of the book of Revelation, who proposes that the world’s injustices can be solved by worshiping God with prayer-laden incense (Rev. 8). This father speaks so simply of charity in the face of evil. Alluding to mercy. Just watch the boy’s face as he straddles these different worlds…
Because of very heavy work commitments, I will be setting aside my Blog for the rest of the academic year, i.e. until May 15, 2016 (Pentecost Sunday). If you want to continue to receive posts when I resume, I recommend you enter your email in the “Subscribe” window on the right side of the Blog page so you can receive notification that I have re-started.
Here are some Blogs I can leave you with to drink from the fountain of wisdom:
The first is by a man rich in faith, wisdom and long life experience. He goes by the marvelously descriptive pen name, “Dismas Dancing,” referring to the repentant Good Thief, St. Dismas. http://lonelywoodentower.org/
The second is by a passionate and smart woman of lively faith, “Jennifer o’ Canada.” http://jenniferocanada.blogspot.com/
The third is by a woman whom I would describe as a “sensible mystic,” Ona Kiser. http://onakiser.com/
The fourth is by Deacon Joe Fessenden, who is at Notre Dame Seminary, and has an insightful and witty Blog on all manner of things-Catholic: http://www.joefessenden.com/
The fifth is the Blog for the seminary I work at. Great stuff! http://nds.edu/blog-entry/