Being Startled

The most moving proclamation of the Fourth Suffering Servant Song, today’s first reading, I heard when I was at Michigan State many years ago. The lector was one of our students, and I knew she was going through much upheaval in her life. I did not expect her anguish to seep through the cracks–it was more than tears. It was a churning of emotion tumbling through like water over rapids. The song asks, “Were you there?” This person was there.

One of my staff colleagues wasn’t impressed. But I knew my young friend brought everything in her being to render that reading. I’ve never heard it the same since.

Even as many were amazed at him–
so marred was his look beyond that of (a) man,
and his appearance beyond that of mortals–
So shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
For those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it.

For the past several decades, humankind has been startled by the victims and survivors of Nazi genocide. The Church has been startled by victims of abuse at the hands of most bishops and some clergy. We are still confronted daily by inhumanity on the scale of continents. We don’t want to look.

Well, we want to look in some ways. We can plug into Mel Gibson’s sadism and say we’ve encountered Isaiah 52:14. But how willing are we to sit with women and children who have been abused? Jesus is a safe encounter, in many ways. He is not present for some, so they can draw and paint him as they wish, putting their own words into his mouth. It’s not about submitting to the lash in a contrived asceticism of our own making. Can we submit as the Servant did, to the trials placed in our path? Does a bishop need to be legally coerced to do something much harder and more demanding than self-flaggelation? It would seem so.

He was spurned and avoided by (others), a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
One of those from whom (people) hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

We hide our faces from the horrific. But today is a good day to unveil them, and to see, hear, and ponder the people God places on our life’s path. And to be startled, if we need to be.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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