Faith helps, offers a dimension of hope
By Father Paul Turner
Key Scripture Columnist
The Good News for the Second Sunday of Lent
March, 12, 2006
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Not every son is spared. In pastoral ministry I have stood by in hope and helplessness with parents on the verge of losing a child – injured beyond recognition in a freak car accident, eaten away by AIDS, bereft of strength by cancer, rejected from the womb in an unwanted, spontaneous abortion, attacked by an enemy, gasping for air after attempted suicide.
Sometimes the child’s life is spared. Other times it is lost. All is lost. Parents who dreamed of a bright future with their children, parents who fought over silly things with kids they loved, parents who were awestruck by the talent of their progeny, parents who wished their kids would straighten up – these parents, who never seriously considered a tragic option for their future now face it: a future without their child.
If they lose a child, parents never get over it. Don’t bother saying, “You’ll have another one.” They might, and they will surely love a new child. But they won’t have this one. This one is gone. All that’s left is memories, heartbreak, and no small measure of anger.
Parents who have lost a child cannot deny the solitude they feel. But they also cannot deny an absence of solitude. They are not alone. Other parents have suffered the same thing. Some even worse. They meet through organizations like The Compassionate Friends. They tell stories. They cry. And somehow they find the strength to go on.
Faith helps. Faith in life after death offers a dimension of hope. It takes a lot of faith and a lot of hope to overcome the enormity of losing a child. Christians believe that God bent over backwards to stir up the faith and hope that bereft parents need. Those parents are not alone. God is a bereft parent too.
St. Paul makes this point in next weekend’s second reading (Romans 8:31b-34). God “did not spare his own Son,” Paul writes, “but handed him over for us all.”
It’s weird when you think of it. God, as a parent, suffered the death of an only child. God, as God, could have stopped it. But God, as creator and redeemer, took an active role: God handed over the Son for us all.
God’s surprising actions give no license to criminal parents who abuse and take the life of their own children. God desires life. God saves. Jesus was no ordinary human. No ordinary child. He was the Word made flesh, truly God and truly human. He faced death as a human does, but also as only God could. God’s actions orchestrated redemption by taking control of what humans fear most: death.
This passage from Romans contrasts with the story of Abraham and his only son, Isaac – next weekend’s first reading (Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18). Abraham waited a hundred years for the birth of his child. And when Isaac was a boy, God asked Abraham to slay him.
It is a horrifying story, another one in which God’s actions do not give license to criminal imitation. God knew the outcome of this story long before he set the chain of events into action. God’s angel praises Abraham for not withholding his only son, and the son’s life is spared.
Abraham too was spared. He was spared the agony of parents who lose a child, and the special agony of parents who lose a child by their own irretrievable actions. This son was spared.
Even the responsorial psalm (116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19) addresses this theme. You can almost hear Isaac himself singing, “O Lord, I am your servant; you have loosened my bonds.” God set him free from death, and Isaac could offer a different sacrifice, “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.”
We hear these passages early in the season of Lent this year as we begin our remote preparation for Good Friday. To approach the cross of the crucified with understanding, we bring our faith that God did not spare his own Son, so that we might have life.
Not everyone loses a child. Many of us suffer other losses that change our fortunes, alter our perception of the world, and throw us into the pendulum swings of despair and determination.
Loss is hard. God strove to lighten it for us by unveiling the mystery of the cross. We never get over what we’ve lost. But we do get through it, because of a God who sent his son, who lost it all and gained it back for the sake of those who suffer.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron.