Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 30, 2008
Calamity can unveil the face of Christ
Life's many storms bring out the best - and worst - in people
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
In the summer of 2005, my wife and I were in New Orleans. The U.S. National Catholic Partnership on Disability invited me to deliver a workshop at a disability conference they were sponsoring there.
On the final day of the conference, a Mass was held. People with various disabilities filled the chapel.
At one point, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans invited each person to bring a miniature clay jar filled with water forward and pour it into a large basin at the front of the chapel. It was to symbolize our sorrows being united in solidarity with the suffering of Christ, the Church, and each other.
I was quite moved to see people with canes, wheelchairs, guide dogs and deformities and their families go forward to the basin and empty their tiny jars.
Clay jar of sorrow
When it was my turn to empty my little clay jar into the basin, I looked into the clear water and wondered how many sorrows were represented there. I kept my miniature clay jar. It now sits on my bookcase at home as a reminder of a poignant moment.
That evening, my wife and I took a trip up the Mississippi River on a large paddlewheel steamer boat. A Dixie band played songs reminiscent of the Old South. I sat in my wheelchair looking over the side of the steamer at the wake of the dark night water it generated.
I knew I would probably never be back that way again. After all, I knew I was entering an advanced stage of multiple sclerosis, which would make future travel difficult, if not impossible. The next day, my wife and I flew home. A few weeks later, Hurricane Katrina decimated the area.
In a matter of hours, a great American city of music, the cradle of jazz and a celebrated centre of southern culture and charm, was reduced to utter misery and devastation.
When I saw the images on television of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, it occurred to me that the collective human grief and sorrows that were symbolically emptied into a water basin a few weeks earlier multiplied exponentially as storm waters of Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans. Peoples' lives were torn apart.
I thought of St. Paul's words about humanity as treasures in jars of clay, symbolizing human frailty. He said, "We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
"For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).
Just as Archbishop Hughes had earlier invited a chapel filled with disabled and deformed people to unite their sorrows and suffering over to Christ, I realized that the entire city was being invited to do the same in the wake of a monster hurricane.
That unspoken spiritual invitation brought out the best and the worst in people in the city's ruins. But isn't that always the case when the stakes are high and desperate for humanity?
Heroes and criminals
Some people rejected that spiritual invitation and we witnessed social breakdown and crime increased in the aftermath of Katrina. But more people rose to great acts of heroism, kindness and personal sacrifice for others during those desperate days.
Hurricane Katrina provided an opportunity for Christians in New Orleans to bring glory to Christ through their witness and service to hurting people. Their light of Christ-like love shone in the darkness and desperation of that time.
Various storms of life confront everyone at some time or another. It may be the death of a loved one, acquired disability, divorce, addiction, economic ruin or perhaps prolonged depression.
Storms can take different forms. Each storm provides us with new opportunities to unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ, his Church, and other sufferers. All of us are invited to relinquish our grief and sorrow into Christ's loving care. It is an act of faith that holds the capacity of transforming us to be more Christ-like.
At some point in our individual grief journeys, we may happen to look beyond our own pain to see the pain of other people. In doing so, seeds of healing may be inadvertently planted.
There is great therapy to reaching out rather than looking inward.
Apparent calamity can spark the beginning of human transformation. Christ's cruel and undignified crucifixion illustrates this truth perfectly. Out of Christ's Passion and sacrifice on the cross, millions of people throughout the ages have found hope - even in their own desperate circumstances. Through the mystery of faith, Christ can be "manifested in our mortal flesh."
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