Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Scripture Reflection for June 26, 2011

Today, Catholics celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. I find it to be a curious feast, since really every Mass is a celebration of the body and blood of Christ. Fr. Radmar Jao, a newly ordained Jesuit priest, beautifully preached today the awe and wonder that we are invited to experience everytime we approach this most Sacred Mystery. Yet, it is a quite natural experience that such awe and wonder is dulled by habit and routine. The feast, then, provides us with an important occasion to reflect and remind ourselves about the faith we take for granted. We believe that Jesus is truly present to us in an immediate and real way, and such a rich encounter can inspire and transform us to become more and more what we eat--the Body of Christ.

As I prayed over the readings today, I found my thoughts focused primarily on the reading from Deuteronomy. Here, Moses tells a people who find themselves in the desert for 40 years that this journey was meant as a test for them to see whether they would keep his commandments in times of strife.

As I listened to the readings, I found myself thinking about a movie I watched recently with some of my Jesuit brothers called Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart where they play a struggling couple attempting to cope with the death of their young son tragically killed in a car accident. In order to cope with their loss, they go to these support group meetings where other couples share about their own loss. In a poignant scene, a couple is talking about how God acts for a reason, and that their child's death happened so that God could have another angel at His side. Upon hearing this, Kidman's character Becca angrily retorts by asking why God didn't simply make a new angel rather than taking her son. The tension is strong in the movie between those who find comfort in God and faith and those who find the notion of God and faith repulsive in the face of tragedy.

Becca's reaction is very real and her anger over any God-talk is quite understandable. Many would not find the response "it happened for a reason" to be very comforting when attempting to process a seemingly senseless death. When reading Scripture, though, we find these feelings are not isolated to the present moment. Even in the Bible, especially in the OT, we read of a people who continuously struggle to make sense of their relationship and faith in God in light of their own struggles. We read of a people continuously in exile, a people who yearn for peace and justice while being battered by violence, war, and oppression. We read of a people who continuously strive to turn their hearts back to God over and over again even in those times when they feel abandoned by Him. Why?

For our ancestors in faith, they found strength in remembering the great works that God had done for them. They continuously go back to that pivotal moment in history when God led them out of Egypt and out of the hands of their captors. They remember the enormous blessing that God bestowed upon Abraham. Their communal memory makes present in their mind the wonders of God, strengthening them to have faith in God and to believe wholeheartedly as they journeyed through the valleys of death.

I imagine that someone like Becca would not find such a move comforting these days. My sense in the movie was that she grew up Catholic and no longer believed a long time ago. What she seems to most deeply long for is a pastoral response--someone to be there for her in her pain and suffering, not someone to recite to her creeds and doctrines. She yearns for a nourishment not given by bread alone.

When we encounter Beccas in our world, we certainly cannot force them to have faith. But, we can perhaps nourish them with an embodied love formed by the grace of God. As Christ sacrificed for us, so too can we sacrifice ourselves for those in need and to share the life we have been given to others. We cannot bring back her son, but perhaps we can begin to ignite hope back into her eyes. Let us become what we are: the Body of Christ.


Robin said...

Great post, Ryan.

I, too, was much taken with that reading this week-end, for the same reasons that Nicole Kidman's character might have been had she heard it.

I would add only that someone can be a person of deep and present faith and still make the same retort that she does.

A friend of mine who lost a 2yo child to a drowning in her own yard a few years ago told me at my own son's funeral that she believed that, in her child's case, God had wanted another angel. I had concluded by that day that God had vanished, and saw in her eyes a desperate and frantic hope that platitudes would ease her pain. Just what I saw in that support group in the movie.

Several months after my son died, I went to one of my seminary professors for advice on a project I was doing (on Calvin and Ignatius!) - he was the Calvin expert. He did not know me at all, but felt compelled to begin our meeting with a lengthy commentary on what had happened in my life and how "our Father in Heaven knows what is best for us."

I never went anywhere near him again.

I don't know that all horrific circumstances mean that God forces us into the wilderness as God did the Israelites -- I think that the deaths of children are the work of someone else. But I do think that if we find ourselves in the arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions, as all bereaved parents do, that God does guide us through and provides manna that is unrecognizeable at the time. It takes along time to see it, though, and someone spouting what seem like easy reassurances into our faces only impedes the process.

Thanks for your reflection.

Robin said...

BTW, I just noticed that you're in Portland now. My daughter went to college at Willamette -- your are in the BEST place!

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Robin, thanks so much for your insightful response and being willing to share from your own personal experience! I applaud your openness and deeply respect your strength to find God amidst grief. Your comment profoundly adds and enriches my own reflection.

I am currently spending the summer in San Francisco getting experience in teaching, but I'll be back in Portland by the end of the summer. It's a wonderful place =)

Robin said...

Everyone else is in places I would like to be, so as consolation to myself I'm posting "I wish . . " pics!