Epiphany

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I slide gruffly into the hard, wooden pew, still groggy from recent sleep and exhausted by the prospect of sitting attentively through two consecutive Easter services. My parents and I, in accordance with our own tradition, hide away in a side cubby of the Basilica at the University of Notre Dame, waiting to sit front-row during the second mass. I pull out a book, some trashy teenage mystery novel, and bury my nose in its fresh pages. Twenty minutes into my reading, Father addresses the assembly, and the Liturgical Choir belts out their first song. It is then, as I stand up tall in my Sunday best, that I notice for the first time the man sitting in front of me. No more than thirty years old, he is confined to a wheelchair, his body a heap of jutting bones and shrunken skin locked in place by a plastic strap. His mother stands next to him, her right hand resting on his left shoulder. As if sensing my gaze, she slowly turns around, and in that instant I see a lifetime of weariness, fear, and sorrow in her eyes. She smiles a tired “Happy Easter,” and then bends down to kiss her son on the cheek.

Just like death and taxes, pain and suffering inevitably plague all humans. Be it the wife who fears that her husband’s skin cancer will become malignant, or the young daughter whose world is torn apart by divorce, we all experience pain. Aeschylus, an Ancient Greek playwright, believed that, “Even in our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” Despair and grief can consume our very beings, and permeate into every nook and cranny of our minds and hearts if we allow them. Dolorous pain taxes us; it drains us of hope and resolution. Stress and depression manifest themselves physically, literally crippling us and dismantling our lives, making it seem impossible to pull ourselves together and move on.

We may ask ourselves, “What could God possibly have in mind? Why does he allow me to suffer?” Eventually, though, this doubt gives way to comprehension. In our darkest hour, we must recognize that to conquer our sorrow, to move beyond the insurmountable wall of hurt in our lives, we must first surrender our entire selves to faith and hope, and to the notion that everything happens for a reason. “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water,” Alan Watts, the British author and philosopher, once said. Whether we place our irrevocable trust in friends, parents, or a higher power, we must hand ourselves over to them, to their guidance and protection, and not second-guess them or ourselves in doing so. We must not allow our uncertainty and fear weigh us down, for only this resilient faith can sees us through both the best and worst of times.

During the Sign of Peace, I turn to the woman in front of me, and shake her hand. Once again, I notice the years of fear and pain that glaze her eyes in tears, but I also see something else. I see devotion, love, and above all hope. In that instant, I realize that this woman has gained wisdom through suffering. She understands that she must believe that God will see her through this ordeal. While it would be easier to abandon her son in a hospital and rid herself of the agony and exhaustion of caring for him, her faith keeps her from doing so. Her trust in God’s plan strengthens her resolve and her love for her son. From the most trivial concerns to the greatest anxieties, all can be conquered as long as we believe we can conquer it. Yes, we all have pain, but too few have the wisdom and fortitude to hand their lives over to providence and trust that eventually things will work themselves out.





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