Magazine article U.S. Catholic

May the Perpetual Light Shine

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

May the Perpetual Light Shine

Article excerpt

In this age of self-help, what do you do when you reach the limits of the help you can give yourself?

CATHOLICISM TAKES A LOT OF LUMPS FROM CRITICS, both inside and outside its ranks. Sometimes the criticism is warranted, sometimes not. Most of these criticisms are about matters of church practice or policy. But matters at the very heart of our faith tend to silence outsiders and unite insiders. These central truths have more to do with essential mysteries of our existence, our purpose, our destiny as children of God. It's when the church is dealing with these issues at the pastoral and personal level that Catholicism shines at its very best.

And so it was when some dear friends lost their son to suicide. When there were no words we could muster, nor analysis that could prove fruitful, we stood mute before the deepest mysteries of our existence. And as has happened for centuries, we turned to the rites and rituals, the songs and stories of our faith. And our faith carried us through the valley of darkness, our agony in the garden.

My friend Bob, who was facing the most painful moment of his life, said, "Without the blessings of our faith, and the sacramental nature of our marriage, I don't know how we could carry on." Thankfully, our faith doesn't leave us without resources in our grieving.

I once read a comment about funeral Masses that has stayed with me. The writer reflected how helpful it was, while he was in the midst of mourning, to have a community of believers around him, saying the prayers he was unable to pray, singing the songs he could not lift a voice to sing. He and his family had been borne along by the faith of the community joining in age-old rites that had power to receive and contain their grief, anger, loss, terror, and despair, and give a foretaste of eternal life in return.

Our storehouse of narratives and symbols and rites does not shy away from grief. Lamentations 3:17 says bluntly: "My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is." Having met us in our pain, the rituals and the stories also convey the content of our faith, Jesus Christ himself. The story of Jesus' suffering, dying, and rising are a guiding pattern for all of creation, and entering into these mysteries--for indeed they are a mystery in every sense of the word to our 21st-century, Western, logical minds--can transform us from lost and confused individuals to members of the Body of Christ. …

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