Where Is The Gift?

Father Robert Barron released an essay this morning on Stephen Colbert, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Cardinal Newman. The point is how we address misfortune, punishment, or however we prefer to term the obstacles in life. In the original interview Fr Barron cited, Mr Colbert reflected on the tragic deaths of his father and two brothers during his childhood:

… he told the interviewer how, through the ministrations of his mother, he had learned not only to accept what had happened but actually to rejoice in it: “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was ten; that was quite an explosion…It’s that I love the thing that I wish most had not happened.” Flummoxed, his interlocutor asked him to elaborate on the paradox. Without missing a beat, Colbert cited J.R.R. Tolkien: “What punishments of God are not gifts?” What a wonderful sermon on the salvific quality of suffering! And it was delivered, not by a priest or bishop or evangelist, but by a comedian about to take over one of the most popular television programs on late night.

I have to confess I’m not quite prepared to love such events. Even considering the words of the great author, perhaps misfortune is a “gift” in some way. Not everybody thinks this way. And some very holy people have resisted the acceptance of bad things.

I’m more inclined to a personal resignation, and to probe such events for new opportunities. I’m not quite ready to accept them as gifts or incidents to love. Sometimes, accidents have no discernible connection with consequences for sinful occurrences. “acts of God,” they are termed. But I see nothing of God in them.

Sometimes when events go against me, I have nobody but myself to blame for the outcome. That is a demanding thing few of us ever master: owning up to our mistakes and recognizing our slumber is in a bed of our own manufacture.

Often enough, innocent people are harmed by the sins and omissions of others. These I find difficult to accept as “gifts.” Too easily do some aggressors get a pass in this life.

But what do you think? When is the time for letting go? When is it right to seek the gift buried in misfortune?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Where Is The Gift?

  1. Devin says:

    “What punishments of God are not gifts?” A true sentiment, a difficult sentiment, but true. God is responsible for everything, so He is on the hook on some level for all actions. Like you, resignation comes more easily for me ( though still a challenge), but perhaps that will change with time and grace.

    Discerning the gift in the misfortune …. is it a punishment for a specific sin? Any sin? If so a recent or distant one? What good does it serve? But even if we don’t know the purpose in this life, it doesn’t mean that the gift won’t bear fruit. But to answer your two last questions, if one is receptive, God will reveal his reasoning to us in his own time if he chooses. If he doesn’t, let things be and move on.

    I do wonder how this impacts evangelization. What do people who have not sipped the “Christian Kool-Aide”, think when they read this response by Colbert? On a similar note, in my neck of the woods in 2006 there was an Amish school shooting. Five young girls died and another 5 were wounded. The response of the Amish community was forgiveness. Public reception to that response varied. Admiration, skepticism, bewilderment, hope, a bit of animosity at such an “inappropriate response”. I was in Eastern Europe at the time among very secular students, and they would come up to me and mention the shooting and the sincere admiration they had for the community’s response of forgiveness. Apologetics are necessary but only if moved by the sentiments like this expressed by Mr. Colbert and the Amish. I suspect Colbert’s sharing of his insight will also bear fruit in its own time.

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