Ordinary Time 21, Year C
- By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies (Is. 30:15)
A Christian Today article posted on August 21, 2007 reads in part :
- Coffins lay strewn in the streets as nearby rescuers dug among
- the rubble of San Clemente church in hard-hit downtown Pisco,
- Peru. Despite overwhelming devastation and mourning, nuns and
- a priest stood quietly and calmly outside the ruins of the
- 300-year-old church waiting for word of two of their sisters
- who were buried in the rubble, reported CNN correspondent
- Harris Whitbeck.
- “I couldn’t understand how this man and these women of the
- cloth could remain so calm, their faith so apparently unshaken
- while they contemplated the ruins of the church and the loss
- of people so dear to them,” said Whitebeck. “I asked them
- about that faith.”
- The priest responded, “It’s difficult times like this that it
I would characterize the priest’s reply as Vincentian.
First, I am almost certain it came from a Vincentian priest. News reports in Spanish that I had read have made me conclude that the priest in Whitbeck’s report was none other than Father Alfonso Berrade Urralburu, C.M.
Secondly, and more importantly, the priest’s reply reflects the Vincentian trust in Divine Providence that article 2 in chapter II of the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission wants missionaries to have. Article 2 reads in part:
- We ought to have confidence in God that he will look after
- us since we know for certain that as long as we are grounded
- in that sort of love and trust we will be always under the
- protection of God in heaven, we will remain unaffected by evil
- and never lack what we need even when everything we possess
- seems headed for disaster.
Because of their unshakeable faith, Father Berrade and the nuns—Daughters of Charity, I am almost sure as well, who wanted to know more about what had happened to Sister Antonieta Perla Cavagneri, D.C., and Sister Elizabeth Oré, D.C.—were able to remain so admirably quiet and calm. Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., said of St. Vincent in part II, chapter XIV, “Trust in Providence,” of The Way of Vincent de Paul: “Vincent knew great peace. He trusted in God as his own Father, who watched over and cared for him.” I do not doubt it that the same can be said in present indicative of Father Berrade and those Daughters of Charity.
Of them, however, one may say that their faith is mere escapism and their appeal to it rather hollow and glib. And indeed, as Father Maloney points out in the section “Some Horizon-Shifts between the Seventeenth and Twentieth Centuries” of his article “Providence Revisited” in He Hears the Cry of the Poor (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1995), there is always the danger of irresponsibility being mistaken for trust in providence, a mistake which is not unrelated to the cross being misused to motivate the poor to accept injustice silently.
But there is no way one can accuse Father Berrade of irresponsibility. He was most responsive at the very outset . Even before rescue squads came and there were generators to provide light in the darkness, he led into rescue efforts those seemingly immobilized by so much desolation. He and his ingenuous team managed to pull out alive from the rubble 20 individuals. He looked around in hope of seeing his parishioners and colleagues. He was saddened by those missing, among them a musician of a young man, involved in youth ministry and dreaming to be a composer someday. Later on, Father Berrade would even give an order to a disoriented soldier who asked him, “What shall we do?” He would visit the hospital, too, considering it his obligation to comfort the injured and to give some encouragement to doctors charged with a difficult mission and with the unenviable task of having to make decisions leading to either life or death. And at the sight of so many dead people—some of whom he helped put in body bags—Father Berrade could not help but stand in solidarity with the grieving families and wish that the presumption of public health law yield to the fact of such an enormous tragedy.
As a priest, of course, Father Berrade recited the words of absolution and a prayer over each victim. But his prayers had nothing to do, I don’t think, with the denial of action that is espoused by those who would flee the world to save themselves from its evils and its corrupting multitude. His prayers were other-saving, and not self-saving.
Such other-saving prayers do not reflect anxiety over one’s own salvation or ask the question, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” even though they are prompted by the vicissitudes and uncertainties of life. Spelling the coming to the surface of what renowned Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey identified as the latent dimension of ultimacy that is found beneath and through the contingent, temporal and relative character of human existence , these prayers proclaim it certain that God provides and makes up for what is lacking in one’s caring for others and efforts to enter through the narrow gate. These prayers are a confession that when one is weak—with drooping hands, feeble knees, and walking lame—then one is strong.
And this certainty or confession of it—coming as it does from God’s graciousness and not from one’s trying mightily hard to compensate for one’s uncertainty through one’s profession of faith that declares at the same time that others are erroneous and irredeemable—goes along with God’s reserving to himself the right to raise up children to Abraham, to Isaac, Jacob and the other prophets, too, out of any people or even stones, out of the rubble as well of San Clemente church and those who died there (cf. Mt. 3:9).