Seeing Beyond the Gate

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Last week I guest posted over at “Women in the New Evangelization” (WINE) about the mother of the sons of Zebedee in a post called “Can You Drink the Cup?” That particular Gospel narrative is one I need to hear frequently — about a mother who tried to guarantee a rosy future for her sons, and a Savior wise enough not to give her what she asked.

Two weeks ago I started another blog series over at Father Ubald’s blog, writing weekly posts about this summer’s writing expedition to Rwanda, where I helped Fr. Ubald put the finishing touches on his upcoming book with Ave Maria Press, Forgiveness Makes You Free (April 2019). His testimony of survival and healing is a powerful reminder to place every part of our lives — past, present, and future — into the hands of the God who created time itself.

The image above has particular significance in Fr. Ubald’s story — it is the gate of his former parish, destroyed in the genocide, where he was driven out by his own parishioners so that they might slaughter the 5000+ Christians inside who had come to the church for sanctuary. “For ten years I had been their pastor, and attended to their needs. And suddenly, I was out. It was a great burden for me, knowing that despite all I had done there, so many lives were lost.” The blue gate was the last sight he had of the parish — as he walked through those doors, the Hutu militia were walking in to do their dirty work.

Each time I see this image, I am reminded of another gate — the gates of Auschwitz, which I saw in 1992 during my summer in Poland. “Arbeit macht frei” the message read. “Work makes freedom.” It was an ignoble lie, of course — the only work going on behind those gates, with rare exceptions, were works of evil. And in that moment back in 1994, it must have seemed the same to Fr. Ubald — for a brief moment, the gates of hell had seemed to prevail.

But just as he entrusted his people to God in that moment, back in 1994, Fr. Ubald continued to trust his own life into the hands of Divine Mercy. And in sparing Fr. Ubald’s life, God set him up to do tremendous works of healing and mercy that would have been unimaginable while he was running for his life.

“I am the gate,” Jesus declared to his followers (John 10:28). “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

God knows we are weak and frail. He knows that we can handle only so much knowledge about what the future holds. What is he asking you to entrust to him today?

 

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Weekend Ponderings: Mercy Sunday

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What do the Catholic Writers Conference Online, Auschwitz, Servant of God John Paul II, and confessionals have in common? They all make me think of one of my favorite feasts of the year, Mercy Sunday.

At CWCO 2009 this year, Danielle Bean talked about comments she gets from women who disapprove  her choice to combine her vocation inside the home with her work as editor of Faith and Family. That this homeschooling mother of eight manages to find a spare minute to do everything else she does is nothing short of remarkable … and yet she freely admits that she is sometimes taken aback when other moms criticize.

“Women are way too quick to tear each other apart. I think a lot of that comes from pride and insecurity. If I am confident that what I am doing is best for my family, I need to embrace it … And then the ‘snippy’ people can’t even touch me.”

Ironically, it is Christian women — those who have experienced for themselves the boundless grace of God in their own lives — who can be hardest both on themselves and on one another. We are quick to criticize, and slow to see when a sister in Christ needs nothing so much as a word of encouragement. In no time, we become imprisoned by the combined weight of a thousand assumptions, impressions, and assertions … all of which can be released with a single timely word of grace.

And so, in honor of Mercy Sunday I’d like to take a moment to recall a time in my life when I experienced this unexpected brush with grace, in the last place some Catholics expect to find it … in a confessional. The article, “Tender Mercies,” was originally published by Canticle magazine in 2007, examines the origins of Mercy Sunday, and affirms the sacramental graces that are available to those humble enough to ask for them.