Appreciate, Then Pay It Forward
Let me begin with a short story I ready recently:
After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers walked up a mountain to assess the damage. One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched on the ground at the base of a tree. Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother’s wings.
The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings. She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze arrived and the heat scorched her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live. Likewise, Christ gave his life to save us from the disastrous fire of sin.
This image is helpful, but insufficient, to explain the events of the death of Jesus Christ for us. The story lacks instruction for what to do after we leave the safety of the crucifixion of Jesus.
We stand at the Cross every Good Friday and appreciate what Jesus did for us. But, after leaving the cross, what do we do?
We leave in order to imitate Jesus Christ, not to live a life of self-interested behaviour. We are born for each other, and we only find true happiness when we share our world with others. But, how do we do that?
Too often we think it is only about gentleness, presence and charity. So, I’d like to share this:
Jesus Heals our Pains – by Henri Nouwen. How are we healed of our wounding memories? We are healed first of all by letting them be available, by leading them out of the corner of forgetfulness, and by remembering them as part of our life stories. What is forgotten is unavailable and what is unavailable cannot be healed. . . By lifting our painful forgotten memories out of the egocentric, individualistic, private sphere, Jesus Christ heals our pains. He connects them with the pain of all humanity, a pain he took upon himself and transformed. To heal, then, does not primarily mean to take pains away but to reveal that our pains are part of a great pain, that our sorrows are part of a great sorrow, that our experience is part of the great experience of him who said, “But was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into the Glory of God?” (Luke 24:26).
The sharing of our personal sufferings is part of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Culture usually binds us to keep our suffering private. To a certain extent that is very proper. Society can’t function well if people are constantly pouring out their sufferings to each other. At the same time, we face a kind of embarrassment when we share our sufferings.
However, certain sufferings need to be aired in the right place to seek healing. Through the healing process, society can also be improved.
We have just seen this through the sexual abuse crisis dealt with over the last 10 years. Society is much more aware, and has dramatically changed child safety issues.
Privately, we also need to process our personal sufferings so they don’t destroy our humanity. Our Founder St Eugene de Mazenod allowed his sorrow to transform him:
“Can I forget the bitter tears that the sight of the cross brought streaming from my eyes one Good Friday?” Retreat Journal, December 1814, O.W. XV n.130
Here, we see Eugene processing his private world, his past behaviour and the sufferings he received as a boy in exile. Then, he connected himself with the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Instead of becoming a victim of his past, he became a “winner”. He did not sink into self-pity, but he moved on and used his life to help others have a better life.
In the process he succeeded in having a full, rewarding and happy life, despite all the setbacks, painful experiences, etc. that he endured. Why did he have such faith? The Resurrection.
This year, let me lay before each of you and myself the need to face our sufferings by drawing strength from Jesus Christ in his crucifixion: we endure suffering for the sake of love.
And, we draw courage and hope through his Resurrection which came shortly afterwards: we endure suffering knowing that our actions to overcome evil will bring the Resurrection.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI