Not Alone: A Single Mom Tells Her Story

Single-parent families often result from the unwillingness of biological mothers or fathers to be part of a family; situations of violence, where one parent is forced to flee with the children; the death of one of the parents; the abandonment of the family by one parent, and other situations. Whatever the cause, single parents must receive encouragement and support from other families in the Christian community, and from the parish’s pastoral outreach. — Pope Francis

A few weeks ago, I was blessed to hear the faith witness of a woman named Sharon Heno. She’s a remarkable woman. After hearing her speak, I asked, as is my habit, if she would allow me to share her story on my Blog. She immediately replied, “Absolutely.” As her witness was so vivid, gritty and powerful, and I didn’t want to risk misrepresenting her, I asked if she wouldn’t mind writing it out herself. She obliged. I am so grateful. Below is a personal introduction, her story of faith, hope and love, and the song she feels best captures her life’s meaning.

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Who I am:

My name is Sharon A. Heno, I am by profession a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of the Counseling group, Behavioral Health Counseling and Consulting. Personally, I am a Mother and Survivor. I grew up Catholic and attended Catholic schools for my education. My elementary school was St. Clement of Rome then middle and high school Ursuline Academy. After a break in my academic journey I attended the University of Life. In all of this I survived violence, a stroke, among other health issues, financial troubles, being lost, and now single parenthood. I have survived many challenges in my life, but believe I have come out of each challenge with more awareness and insight into my life and my purpose. Eventually I returned to college and graduated from Loyola University. I went on to receive my Masters from the University of New Orleans and pursued my career in Counseling. Even now life is not free from challenges, I am ever changing and evolving to God’s calling. I openly share my story as I believe I am called to share my life’s ups and downs to encourage others facing obstacles.

My Story: 

I don’t believe that being a single parent is a calling from God. Becoming a single parent is a result of our free will. From the start, with Adam and Eve, we know the story of free will. God often uses our choices to teach us lessons. What an amazing God to use this love to teach us lessons of life and love. As a young adult, I frequently pushed limits, tested my independence and had little time for God or the church in my busy life.

With this I often found my life in turmoil and crisis. I was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.

In early 2001 found myself back in crisis and my life reeling out of control. Discovering I was pregnant came as though I were diagnosed with a fatal illness. I was unable to receive the news as a gift, but rather as a curse. I went into damage control. I remember the feeling, fear and darkness took over, what was I going to do and how was I going to get out of this? My next steps were to reach out to the only other person who could understand, the only one who might have solutions. I contacted her biological father looking for support and comfort, I was met with something else. His fear was greater than my own and he too went into damage control. Our solution at this point was not to go further with this pregnancy. Looking back with no other intention but to cover up the shame we were feeling. He jumped into gear and took care of everything, setting the appointment, offering to pay and driving to the procedure.

Yes, he was in control and taking charge, this is what I thought I needed. And it was. Only at this moment I gave control to the wrong person, still believing we could change things and be in control of this situation. We had gotten in this, we could certainly take control to “fix” it.  While at the clinic, I heard that inner voice louder than ever before. I couldn’t do this, I wouldn’t do this. I had heard that voice before, but often reasoned it away. Not today, I suddenly felt peace not in knowing what I would do, but in not going through with the abortion. I left that day alone, without human support, but at that moment decided I would begin my journey in obedience, letting go. I left alone from earthly supports, but with 100% support from what I know today was my Heavenly Father. The shame I felt lifted and I was no longer in damage control, but rather asking the Father to show me what he wanted me to do.

I was still considering putting my daughter up for adoption, and some even offered to buy her. As I prayed about these, none of these options were met with feelings of peace for me. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those that put their babies up for adoption and for the families that adopt them. At this point in my life, I did not feel this is what I was being called to do. This was confirmed when her biological father refused to sign adoption papers which prohibited me from placing her for adoption. It appeared to many I was losing control and being abandoned, but rather I was letting go.

I felt the most peace when I proclaimed that at 31 years old, I would keep and raise my baby. Not sure how, but at that moment it was almost as if I were reborn. I had to let go of the demons of my past and embrace my future. Was I scared? Yes! I did not want to be a statistic, nor create one. How would I provide for her? How would I even survive the pregnancy alone? I felt alone, but would later come to see I was not. Looking back, God was there all the time, making what seemed impossible, possible. A friend of mine shared a biblical passage: “Go by faith not by sight.” This became my mantra and remains so today.

With the delivery of my daughter many miracles and blessings began to come, and only hours after her birth healing came to my family. We had not spoken the duration of my pregnancy, but they arrived and healing began. We began to heal as a family and individually. So much has been a blessing, but the lessons and challenges are there. There are daily struggles and fears that I face every day. Facing the trials and tribulations alone, carrying the support on my own. Trying to console me for not having the companionship of a husband, many often say, “Well you don’t have a husband but you have your daughter.” I agree, but I don’t believe you should rely on your child to process your fears and struggles. She is a child, and the challenges that I as a parent face should not and will not be shared with her. Children need to be allowed to be children.

Another challenge I face is with friendships. Friends are hard enough to make, but as a single parent, unfortunately, I have found you are almost ousted, excluded, which can intensify those feelings of loneliness. One thing I have learned is people or things cannot take away that feeling. I truly feel peaceful when I spend time every day in prayer. This is a challenge, as like so many I am always short on time. I have become more disciplined in giving my time to God and this brings me a peace I cannot explain. When I’m feeling, lonely I turn to my Father. He has said he can be all things. When my earthly parents can’t comfort me the way I need, it is God that offers support. When friends are scarce, God is a constant. As for finding a loved one, well, I do believe God has already selected him but right now God needs me to continue to grow and to stay focused on my daughter.

Some of the lessons I have learned and continue to learn are patience, living in the moment and most importantly nothing is possible without God, but everything is possible through him. He has entrusted me with the joy and responsibility of raising this beautiful creation of his.

Rescue My Heart

The church I was in. clangeblog.files.wordpress.com

We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan – we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No – when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature! And our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence. — Pope Benedict at Auschwitz-Birkenau

A number of years ago, when I worked for a parish in Florida, I was in the church one day fixing some broken kneelers and a man walked in. I don’t think he saw me. He walked over into the sanctuary behind the altar, under the crucifix, threw himself face down on the ground and began to sob and wail aloud: “O God, please don’t take my wife. Please, God! No! I love her! The children need her! Please! Don’t! Why? Why? Dear God! Please! Oh please! No, God! My wife! My wife!”

I sat motionless. His sounds echoed in the church.

It was brutal to listen to. He continued in this way for about five minutes, quieted, sat up and knelt, and then after a period of silence spoke softly in an almost relieved tone, “Thank you.” Then he got up and left. I ducked and hid on the floor between the pews for a minute or so because I did not want him to see me and feel I had violated his privacy.

I realized, as I lay there waiting for him to leave, to hear someone pray like that was so intimate. It was like being allowed to walk into the center of their soul, into their holy of holies. After I got up and sat in the pew I was paralyzed, and cried myself for a bit as I was shaken by the depth of his pain and desperate plea. I wondered how God could have received that prayer without weeping.

Step forward to today. A friend of mine texted me and introduced me yesterday to the singer and composer, Liz Longley. Whoa. How have I missed her? This lady can sing and write music. And though I don’t sense, from the little research I did on her, that she writes her music from a faith perspective, her articulation of the human desire for redemption and love is exquisitely beautiful, to me.

This song he texted me, called Rescue My Heart, is especially attuned to a very Jewish form of plaintive longing for God to rescue His people. The psalms are filled with her cry, her words of pain carved “out of the depths” (130:1). Soundings of Isaiah’s “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (64:1). Even our Creed retains this yearning:

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

I sent Longley’s song yesterday during the day to someone I know who is suffering from a recent terrifying betrayal. She said: “This is totally balm to my heart. It helped me pray when I can’t these days. Thanks for sending it.”

Listen:

Mother, Hearer of the heart’s cry

nursia.org

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I do know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will ask, How much love did you put into what you did?” ― Mother Teresa

As I have felt deeply moved these last days to write on Mother Teresa, let me end this series with a quote from Pope Francis’ homily at Mother’s canonization, and a song by the British electropop band, Ooberfüse. I believe it captures well the heart of Mother’s magnificent mission to shine light into the darkness and bring charity alive in the Church and in the world.

Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”.

She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.

Bound to the Destitute

Gethsemane at night. amazonaws.com/

Who wrote this?

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no one to answer–no one to whom I can cling–no, No One–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart–and make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.

Whenever I read this text aloud in classes, workshops or retreats, rarely does anyone guess that this was written by the now canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta, during the many years she endured what has been called her “dark night of faith.” It’s absolutely stunning, and seems to betray the woman of smiles whose bold spirit, profound aphorisms and tireless service to the poorest of the poor captured the world’s attention for decades. When I first read the collection of her private letters, I had to catch my breath. But, having been a student of St. John of the Cross, mystic of the dark night, as well as of St Thérèse of Lisieux, I began to connect the dots. In fact, after reading these words from Mother I immediately searched for a quote from Thérèse I’d come across years before that sounded very much like Mother’s lament.

Thérèse:

I get tired of the darkness all around me. The darkness itself seems to borrow, from the sinners who live in it, the gift of speech. I hear its mocking accents: ‘It’s all a dream, this talk of a heavenly country, of a God who made it all, who is to be your possession in eternity! All right, go on longing for death! But death will make nonsense of your hopes; it will only mean a night darker than ever, the night of mere non-existence!’ … For love of you, my God, I will sit at that table of bitterness where poor sinners take their food, and I will not stir from it until you give the sign. I am willing to remain there alone to eat the bread of tears, until it shall please you to bring me to your Kingdom of Light.

That last line was, for me, the key that unlocked the mystery of this darkness both women suffered.

When I served back in 1991 at the Gift of Peace home and hospice for homeless men and women infected with HIV-AIDS, one of the Missionary of Charity Sisters spoke to me of Mother’s vision for their life of vowed poverty. I wrote down her insight that night in my journal:

…Sister told me, “Mother reminds us that we freely vow poverty to share in the poverty of Jesus, who shared in the poverty of the world’s poor whom we serve. Most of these poor live in poverty and despair for reasons beyond their control. Charity commands us to share their lot as much as we can, like Jesus.”

This made me think of a passage in St. Paul: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). I’ve never really thought of this passage as a paradigm for Christian life, how it shapes the way I think about my own life and faith as a call to such radical solidarity. I am a child of my culture, placing autonomy over communion.

Sister also said to me, “We choose to live our life very near to the poorest of the poor, the lonely, the destitute, to lighten their burdens and so they see we are not above them, but with them. This is the Christian way. Not God above us, but God with us. Jesus. Our poverty, Mother says, is a lifelong fast that gathers up food to offer to the hungry and drink to give to the thirsty. Not just material food and drink, but the food of love, companionship, friendship, joy, hope. It is truly heaven — isn’t it? — when none hungers or thirsts, because all share all with all? We must give the poor a taste of heaven, now, like the disciples did in the church of the apostles.”

She was referring to this striking passage in Acts: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).

These Sisters, Missionaries of Charity, are living signs in the church of this apostolic exaltation of the common good; of the vocation of each disciple of Jesus to be a Simon of Cyrene, called to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). “You received without paying, give without pay” (Matt. 10:8).

The same logic Sister applied to her evangelical vow of poverty — the logic of divine charity — applies to Mother’s experience of darkness and abandonment. In her vow to serve the poorest of the poor, she bound herself to their terrible lot, leaving to God the implications of that binding. She chose to shoulder the destitution of the poor, and God received her Yes as consent to make of her life a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1ff). This is the “logic of exchange” that burns deep in the heart of Christ’s sacrificial offering on Golgotha. And, so, those of us who, through Baptism, have been bound to the cross of Christ also partake in this marvelous exchange. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

How great is the folly of God who, in Christ, has chosen to overthrow the kingdom of darkness by turning Hell’s dark arts into the very weapons wielded by the Children of Light.

Mother said of herself in one of her letters,

I have begun to love my darkness,
for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part,
of Jesus’ darkness and pain on the earth.
If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of darkness.

Surely she is that. Deo gratias.

Grant me the grace, O Father of the poor, to see in my burdens, bound to your Son’s cross by the eternal Spirit, a mysterious offering that can lighten another’s burden. Such a lovely providence, my God! Only in heaven will I come to know the joy my small offerings brought to others’ lives, as well as the joy others’ offerings have brought into my own. Oh the beauty of your Christ’s Body! May it be so now, dear Father, and into the day of our eternity. Amen.

Twenty One Silence

[re-post from March 2016]

Those of you who read my blog with any consistency know well that I share my daughters’ affection for the group, Twenty One Pilots. I dig their sound, energy and vibe, but even more their clean and meaningful lyrics. I wish I could find a way to communicate to them my admiration for their work. I was thrilled to see on Word on Fire philosophy professor Father Damian Ference make these comments about them:

What I am saying is that Twenty One Pilots has offered a masterful incarnation of the culture of encounter. They meet their audience where they are, as they are, and they let them know that they “get them.” Once their audience trusts them, then they can slowly challenge them to consider a new way of seeing, a new way of living, and a new way of being. Is it evangelization? Maybe not exactly, but it is encounter, which is a prerequisite for authentic evangelization. They’ve accomplished the important work of preparing the soil for seeds to be sown, which isn’t easy. And, if by the end of the night, Twenty One Pilots can get some young people to say “Hello” to God for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, well, that’s better than most.

Among their songs, I have a number I really love and have nearly memorized. Among these is Car Radio, which is about abandoning the culture of distraction and being confronted by the frightful vulnerability found in stark silence. The lyrics are fabulous. I have given several retreats on the value of silence over the last twenty years, and have said far more about silence than anyone should. I’ve found again and again that people benefit more from those silent retreats about silence than any other I have given. Precisely for the reasons stated in this song. The music video for Car Radio, in true Twenty One Pilots form, is off-beat schizo-pop. It offers a wild visual narrative of the painful process of being stripped, shaved, of all those external “noises” that distract us from facing our inner struggles, preventing us from having to face head-on life’s most profound meaning-questions.

A man I know, who is now a bishop, said to me back in the 1980’s when I took a philosophy course from him:

There are nights when I feel the pain of loneliness to such a degree that I feel almost desperate. I used to immediately distract myself with TV or a phone call, or head out to the drug store to buy chips. But now I just sit in the chapel in my rectory and let it burn through me, in the silence, with tears, and ask Jesus to make me a better priest. Silence is the only way I can allow what is deep within me to surface out into God’s presence. And it’s a taste of hell.

I couldn’t help but think of this segment of the Creed:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell…

Okay, let me get to the song and video. I’ll preface it with a gritty quote from Henri Nouwen that I’ve used to open many of the silent retreats I’ve given.

As soon as we are alone in silence, inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

I ponder of something terrifying
‘Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my, too deep, please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win and fear will lose
It is faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

Fall Away

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Maria

[Re-post from February 2016. Extremely busy days for me, so re-posts help. Oh, but did I mention that March 2, 2017 I’ll see Twenty One Pilots live, in concert, in New Orleans? #frenziedjoy]

God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings. There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even we ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us. — Catechism #2847

My daughter Maria introduced me to the group Twenty One Pilots in 2015 and I have (figuratively) joined their fan club. I will be posting more on them soon. Recently Maria wrote a brief reflection for school on a song of theirs, and I found her reflection so excellent I asked if I could publish it here. She graciously agreed.

Here was the prompt she received in class:

For this activity, you will be analyzing a song, poem, article, short story, or character in a book. Your typed response will answer the general question, “How does these lyrics or story promote authentic human freedom?”  You will need to attach the lyrics of the song, the article, the story, or some type of description of what you chose to analyze to the assignment (If you do a song or another media source you may attach the youtube clip as well).  Your response must be at least 200 words.  Pay careful attention to clarity of writing and grammar.

Here was her answer:

The song “Fall Away” by twenty one pilots discusses authentic human freedom in an obscure but brutally honest way. Tyler Joseph, the writer of the song, divulges his struggle of concealing who he really is and talks about his fear of “falling away” from the truth and, ultimately, God.

I believe that the message Joseph is trying to convey is that he strives to live the life he is supposed to live, but many self-doubts hinder his ability to do so. The line “but I don’t want your way, I want mine” is Joseph addressing God, saying that he wants to create his own path instead of taking God’s path of true happiness. Another line, “I can feel the pull begin/feel my conscience wearing thin,” expresses his struggle to retain his original beliefs and morals as the outside world pulls him away, giving him a false idea of what freedom is.

While this song does not exhibit an explicit representation of authentic human freedom, it does describe the difficulty many face to use their freedom how they ought to. In our tainted, confused world today, freedom is generally defined as the right to do or say whatever one wants. Especially with the recent upsurge in social media, the pressure to believe in a fixed set of ideas has increased, leaving many people in doubt.

Only with God can freedom be used unerringly, which is why it is imperative that we make ourselves immune to the temptations around us.

Here’s the song:

Here are the lyrics. 

I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I’ll keep the lights on in this place
‘Cause I don’t wanna fall, fall away 
I disguise
And I will lie
And I will take my precious time
As the days melt away
As I stand in line
And I die as I wait as I wait on my crime
And I’ll try to delay what you make of my life
But I don’t want your way,
I want mine
I’m dying and I’m trying
But believe me I’m fine
But I’m lying,
I’m so very far from fine And I, I can feel the pull begin
Feel my conscience wearing thin
And my skin
It will start to break up and fall apartI don’t wanna fall, fall away
I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I’ll keep the lights on in this place
‘Cause I don’t wanna fall, fall awayEvery time I feel selfish ambition
Is taking my vision
And my crime is my sentence
Repentance is taking commission
It’s taking a toll
On my soul
I’m screaming submission and,
I don’t know if I am dying or living
‘Cause I will save face
For name’s sake
Abuse grace
Take aim to obtain a new name
And a newer place
But my name is lame
I can’t walk and I ain’t the same
And my name became
A new destiny to the graveAnd I, I can feel the pull begin
Feel my conscience wearing thin
And my skin,
It will start to break up and fall apart
I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I’ll keep the lights on in this place
‘Cause I don’t wanna fall, fall away

St. Enemy

blogspot.com

[re-post from March 2016 in honor of today’s Feast. It’s one of my most cherished insights]

On January 25, 2016, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, I had one of those insights that, when you get it, makes you suddenly see everything a bit differently. It’s something I’d already in some sense known, but not from this specific angle.

Eastern Orthodox theologian Fr. John Behr says that theology is knowledge of God acquired within the “matrix of the Scriptures” illumined by the light that shines from the cross and resurrection of Jesus. As I was praying that morning, immersed in the Mass readings for the day (especially Acts 22:3-16), my mind blazed with the light of epiphany as I inhabited Saul’s encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. It’s not critical exegesis as much as it is a spiritual read of the texts. Here’s the journal entry:

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The first Scripture of the New Testament was written at the command of Pontius Pilate and preserved in all four Gospels: “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” And Pilate is the inspired author: “What I have written [gegrapha] I have written [gegrapha]” (John 19:22).

Let me pause writing for a prostration.

The enthronement of the King of Truth on Golgotha was first inscribed in mock of God’s royal Son. Divine revelation chose to use for its “writing tablet” the wood of the Cross, with a parchment declaring God as guilty of treason for usurping Caesar’s lordship over the world. The declaration of Christ’s kingship is at once the rationale for having executed God: “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” And it was written in the sacred language of Hebrew and secular language of Greek/Latin, to Jew and Gentile. The first Scripture of the New Covenant is as universal as the covenant itself. It’s Scripture: “What I have written,” sharing the same root word as Scripture, graphḗ – as in Matthew 4:10,  “for it is written [gegraptai].” 

My God, the first Scripture of the new covenant was written at the command of a Gentile and an enemy. In this sense, inscribed into the heart of the Gospel is the new commandment on steroids: “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44).  Sacred Writ is inscribed on the cursed Cross that tears down all dividing walls and reconciles all things by the bloodshed of the Beloved Son (Col. 1:20). No wonder the chief priests objected: “Do not write [graphe], ‘The King of the Jews’…” (John 19:21). Our God could never be such a King! Yet, He is.

Again, amazed. In this new covenant a strange divine economy unfolds, as men who cherish expediency, intending an innocent death to achieve their goals, unwittingly unveil the most profound mystery of God’s providence: His unfathomable mercy (John 11:49-51; Gen. 50:20). Like the Centurion who thrust his spear into the Heart of God in order to ensure His death, human malice only serves to provoke divine love to super-abound and unseals the fountain of life for all creation.  

This is the heart of the mystery of mercy.

My God.

How equally marvelous that Jesus would chose Saul, an enemy of the Way (Acts 9:4), to proclaim the Gospel of God’s mercy to the nations (cf 1 Tim. 1:16) and serve as the ambassador of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) whose core mission is to tear down the walls of hostility that stood between Jew and Gentile (cf. Eph 2:14).

How wonderful that God chose a blasphemer (1 Timothy 1:13) to serve as a vessel of biblical inspiration for nearly half the New Testament, and a murderer (Acts 9:1) to proclaim the Gospel of life.

St. Paul’s revolutionary encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus seared in his mind the merciful mind of Christ, who loves His enemies unto self-abasement (cf Phil. 2:5-11). The mind of the Word-made-flesh, who reserved His sweetest display of love for those who spat in His face and brutalized His body (Luke 23:24; Rom. 12:20-21; Gal 3:13).

“Such is our God, our God for ever and always” (Psalm 48:14).

All this to say that St. Paul was equipped in a singular way to proclaim the “word of the Cross” (1 Cor. 1:18). In fact, the Cross emboldened him to articulate the most radical expression of selfless love found anywhere in Scripture. These words still make me shudder whenever I read them.  Speaking of his fellow Jews who had rejected Jesus, as he once had, he said:

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race (Romans 9:3).

Read that one more time: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.”

May Christ make me always gratefully aware that I also am, by His mercy, also an enemy-made-friend (Romans 5:10). O Lord, fill me with the courage to live daily out of the riches of that same mercy toward my most difficult neighbors. Amen.

But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. – Luke 6:27-28