The Fragility of Life and the Restorative Mission of Christ

In late January, friends from Minnesota were visiting me while I was on sabbatical in south Texas. After Mass and brunch, I took a long walk in the bright Texas sun. As I made my way back to the house my friend who was sitting on the porch alerted me to the news that Kobe Bryant had died that morning in a helicopter crash. I froze in my tracks, stunned in disbelief. Later that day, I was heartened to learn that Bryant, a Catholic, had taken the time to attend Mass early Sunday morning before leaving with his daughter to coach a basketball tournament. I also reflected on the fragility of life in the wake of the tragic death of Bryant, in the prime of his life, and the others who died with him.

In the succeeding weeks, we have all had to confront the fragility of life and health as the global pandemic wrought by COVID-19 has resulted in deep and lasting harm. Catholics who have responded from the reservoir of our rich faith tradition and the light of reason are enabled to approach this crisis with wisdom and common sense. Both are needed at this time – in service of the common good.

It pains me when I hear Catholics respond to the crisis deprived of either the wisdom of faith or the light of reason. Regarding the later, some Catholics who might be described as traditionalist have deplored the decisions by Church leaders to suspend public liturgies, suggesting, apparently, that we should continue our liturgical gatherings and let God sort it all out. Rather, God, through human agency, reason, and faith – asks us to sort it out, while relying on God’s grace in the process. To persist in the manner suggested by various traditionalist voices is tantamount to fideism – the heresy of employing faith without reason.

On the other side of the ledger, Catholics are not secular humanists and thus are always open to faith and God’s gracious interactions with the crown of his creation. God desires for us to reach out to him in our time of need. Regrettably, we have seen this dualism play out consistently in response to the clergy abuse crisis. On one hand, some say, “we don’t need prayer, we need reform.” On the other hand, Cardinal Sarah of Africa and others have said, “we don’t need reform, we need saints.” The reality is that we need all of the above – especially for our wounded Church and world – we need prayer, we need reform, and we need saints.

A recent article colorfully conveyed how when faced with a plague in 17th century Palermo, Catholics called on both faith and reason – in social distancing measures and in calling on the intercession of St. Rosalie, a favorite Sicilian saint. The line of the article comes from the Archbishop of Palermo who at the time warned the sick that if they did not isolate themselves, “they will be cursed with Lucifer, and Judas and the Devils in hell.” In forwarding the article to my boss, Archbishop Hebda, I noted that he has employed a more pastoral tone to the faithful in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

As in preaching, I suppose it is also true in blog writing that a good blog is one that conveys good news and hope. Christians and our Jewish brothers and sisters enter into the high holy days of our respective faith traditions this week. Given my immersion into restorative justice ministry as a priest and at the St. Thomas law school, I have been struck by how prominent the theme of restoration is in Scripture – both in Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament. The words restore and/or restoration appear 130 times in Scripture – across a diverse array of biblical genres: the law; the prophets; wisdom literature; the psalms; and the gospels.

Restoration is also a prominent theme in the writings of the Church Fathers, including St. Augustine and St. Basil. The theme of restoration is prominent in Scripture and Catholic theology, because it is central to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. In commemorating the Paschal Mystery of Christ during Holy Week, we celebrate a God came into our word to redeem and restore us. In the midst of the fragility of life and health we together face, this is good news indeed and a source of great hope.

Stay safe and well and have a blessed Holy Week.