I remember standing outside an intensive care unit waiting to visit a two month old baby girl. Their family doctor come out to meet me and told me to go in, his eyes filled with tears. He said to me, “Father, I have tried everything. It’s up to you now. I can do no more”. But a priest can do more.
Supported by Jesus
People ask priests how we cope in such circumstances. The reason we manage is because we believe in the presence of Jesus. His presence is the “more” that we bring, though we are weak and sinful vessels. Our vocation as priests is to make Christ present. We do this most fully during the Holy Mass but also when we celebrate the other sacraments. When we raise our hands in blessing during Confession, it is Jesus who forgives through us. When we anoint the sick with holy oils, it is to make present the healing presence of Christ. We are fully aware that it is not us but Christ’s presence that brings peace, forgiveness and healing to this broken world.
Pope Francis and God’s Presence in the World
In his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Pope Francis reminds us that,
“Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection ”.
The Symbol of the Cross – Suffering and Redemption
Our Christian faith tells us that God is present with His merciful love in the good and bad moment of our lives. The great symbol of our Christian faith is the Cross. Calvary was not a nice and serene place. The Old Law said that the person hanging on a cross was to be seen as accursed by God. How could God be with anyone who is condemned? But this is precisely where Jesus is to be found.
God does not abandon us
People often think of God as being only in Heaven, with all the choirs of angels, with fluffy clouds and soft music. When sorrow comes their way, they feel abandoned by God and can even turn against God. However, the Cross tells us that we can also find God in the sadness of death, in the soul of the condemned man, in the midst of a crowd screaming for blood. This is where the True God is to be found. Our God does not turn His back on our suffering and pain, on loneliness and defeat. If God can be on Calvary, then He can be anywhere. Even in the midst of my messed up life, with my broken family, in the hospital ward and by the side of a grave, we can find God. The great truth of our Christian faith brings light into darkness by the presence of God.
God changes everything into Love
There are two particular places of great personal significance which I have been blessed to have visited many times in my life as a priest, Lourdes and Assisi. Both of these places speak of God’s presence changing everything. Both places, the Grotto in Lourdes and St. Francis Grave, were places that people associated with death and sin.
Lourdes and Assisi
Before Our Blessed Lady appeared in Lourdes, the Rock of Massabielle was a dump, where the infected rags from the local hospital were dumped and burned. It was also a place where people went for sinful sexual activities. The place where St. Francis is buried was originally a dump for the town of Assisi and the place where the gallows waited for its victims. Both were known as the places of death.
Now we know these places are two of the most blessed shrines in Europe, places where people go burdened by physical, moral and psychological sicknesses and where they find hope, mercy and peace. The stories of these two places bring us to the heart of the Christian message of hope and mercy. God can go to the strangest of places and transform them. We should not be surprised by this. The question was once asked, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” Goodness Himself came from Nazareth. The place isn’t important. It is the presence of God which transforms everything.
Calvary - Darkness to Light
When mercy comes to any situation, it changes everything. Calvary was a terrible place of violence and death, as it was on Good Friday. For anyone standing by the Cross that day, there was no mercy, no hope, only death and excruciating agony. But there was also another reality. The love and mercy of God was there, fulfilling His promise to humanity to redeem us so we could be with Him “in Paradise”. The willing acceptance by the Messiah, of death by Crucifixion, was a symbol which every human could understand. It is not the Cross, but the motive. The motive is love which emerges for a heart overflowing with love and mercy for everyone, no matter what sins they have committed. He died so that we could be saved from our sins, not just for the next life, but for this one also, as the virtuous life is the most pleasing and enjoyable way to live.
Calvary stands as a symbol for every place we find ourselves as sinful, broken and suffering human beings. There is no place that God will not go to bring mercy and new life. Whenever you find yourself on your own Calvary, never feel abandoned. Jesus is there. Mercy is there with you. Call to Him in faith. Say as did the man in the Gospel, “I have faith in your presence, help the little faith I have”. Look at the Crucifix and know that if God could have been there, then He is with you too.