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Never forsaken

| Thursday, March 19, 2015

The parish I serve exposes me to a variety of age ranges, and I am fortunate to interact with many different families.

My ministry at the high school, however, serves a much smaller demographic, which, save for faculty, staff and administration, comprises more than 1,000 teenagers.

In each of these places, however, there is tremendous diversity in age, opinion and way of life. Some days, I wonder how anything gets done since the melting pot of diversity does not always lead to a beauty-laden “stew of life.”

Despite these differences, each community comes together in different ways. At the parish, for example, men and women, young and old, sinners and saints among them, show up to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry to serve the poor on Saturdays.

At the high school, the students who might be labeled as “bad,” the kids who drink, have had sex or doubt their faith still raise money on behalf of the poor. They go on mission trips to serve and walk with the less fortunate.

These students serve alongside those who frequently receive most of our attention, the ones who we might praise, the ones who are always serving and taking care of others. These are the students who we think might never have dreamed about touching a beverage or another person, those who pray rosaries every night before they go to bed.

But some days, those “saints” might actually look more like sinners. And the ones who are “bad,” the ones who we might want to simply label as “sinners,” might actually be trying really hard to behave much more like saints.

Labeling someone misses the deeper and more beautiful part of the story, though. Saints aren’t people who never sin, and sinners aren’t people who can never be saints.

Fortunately, there is a person who reminds us of this fact. At the doors of the high school where I work, there is a sign that reads, “Be it known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school. He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes. He is the model of its faculty and the inspiration of its students.”

Christ is the reason why we teach, instruct and inspire. What we proclaim, however, trumps all human distinctions and categories. What we preach is simple: No matter our past, Christ always offers us the same chance to be children of God. The question, then, is simple — will we accept?

And here’s the really crazy part; There is no condition on this offer. God can still do great things with us, no matter the degree of our sin or sanctity. Take St. Peter — he denied Jesus three times. Yet Jesus still made Peter the “rock” on which the Church was built. But it was a difficult journey.

C.S. Lewis, in his masterful work, “The Screwtape Letters,” put this truth in the words of a master devil seeking to teach his apprentice devil, Wormwood:

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

I don’t blame St. Peter. The traces of the Christ that Peter knew, the Christ that made blind men see and the lame walk, seemed to have been forsaken right before his eyes. The chant of “Crucify him, crucify him!” was deafening. Peter saw his master whipped and beaten. In the midst of the anger and deafening roars of the crowds, he lost sight of the good Christ had done.

Our present time is really not that different. We too lose sight of Christ’s traces.

But it is precisely in those moments we are called make a commitment, to journey forward to obey Christ’s invitation, even when we might not know the way.

We must obey like Christ who, in the midst of utter evil and despair, still followed his Father’s will, showing love and mercy to those who would kill him.

We must obey like Peter who, in the midst of an uncertain future, still obeyed Christ’s command to bring his message to the world, even as he faced his own death at the hands of those who hated him.

No matter the degree to which the traces of Christ might seem absent or darkened, we must help one another remember that no degree of sanctity or sinfulness can darken Christ’s light. Even when we feel forsaken, Christ’s light can still shine through our eyes and hearts, if we work together to bring it into the world.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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