“Dios te amo primero”—God loved you first. That’s one pronouncement of Pope Francis that will linger in my heart eternally. Like living seeds, the words are growing inside me. I know because it comes alive in my moments in contemplation, when I become overwhelmed by the extent of human suffering and injustices in my own country alone, dwarfing my own personal problems. I’m sure Francis’ words are meant to console all of us, no matter what troubles we may be going through.
But, like a parent who in the end has to leave behind a child, Francis has left us, but not before he equipped us with what may well be the foolproof disaster-preparedness kit for all our Christian lifetime—the memory of Calvary. What else, if not Calvary, would make the “Yolanda” victims realize God’s love for them—Christ had suffered first and, like them, He was an innocent victim.
It was indeed at Calvary, if the occasion had to be pinpointed, that God loved us first, loved us unconditionally and all-inclusively when He gave us His only son, who took unto Himself all human suffering and gave up His life for us: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man give up his life for his friends (John 15:13).
When I was a student I used to wonder why the Christian faith seemed singularly focused on Christ’s suffering and death instead of His life. I even suspected that His childhood might have been too happy, and that the Church felt it had to keep that under wraps strategically.
I questioned the circumstances of His birth: He became man but skipped normal human processes as though they were not God-like (which is probably why some couples, even married ones, shy away from Holy Communion after a romantic night).
Until Francis, it has seemed to me the Church had a beef against normal family life and human relationships—the way some of its officials go livid about contraceptives even among married people seems to me to imply an inordinate fear of even proper fun, complete with crackling laughter. The only other pope I can remember laughing, aside from Francis, was the jolly one, John XXIII.
When I was a student I had this problem with giggle attacks. These would hit me at the wrong times and in the wrong places, at chapel for instance, where it is absolutely forbidden. The combination of the forbidden and the solemn, as happened, was a deadly one for me as a giggler. It got so bad at one time that I had to be physically removed from chapel.
What set me off were tiny innocent holes in the socks of the girl kneeling in front of me. For some reason, it got progressively funnier and it certainly didn’t help when a nun came up close to me widening her eyes almost beyond human limits, believing perhaps that by the eye trick she’d terrify me into silence.
Once I got started there usually was nothing to stop me. Many years after, already a grandma, I saw the refreshing image of the “Laughing Christ” at the Maryknoll chapel. Immediately I knew that that’s precisely the sort of Christ image that would have stopped me giggling at chapel even at the sight of those funny socks.
In any case, sadness does seem to envelop our faith. After all, it’s when one weeps that one precisely seeks company, divine as well as human. That’s why I find the Spanish way of expressing one’s condolence at a time of loss so appropriate: Te acompano en tus sentimientos—I accompany you in your grief.
It’s a sweet way of saying, “I’m here because I care.” It’s a reminder that one is not alone, and, often, that’s enough said. Until it happened to me, I used to think it was unnecessarily burdensome for a griever to have to tell the story of how her loved one died again and again, to each one who comes to sympathize.
I now find it most comforting. When my turn came, I realized that more than my friends, it was actually I who needed to hear the story again and again, to help me process and accept the immutable truth: Mom is gone forever.
By now, we have all had our share of pain and losses, and that, while we all know that the pain never goes away completely, we also know we must live on. And as we continue to do so, it’s truly a great comfort to have a smiling and welcoming pope who shuts out no one from his fold, who came here precisely to remind us that no matter who we are and where we are, we can continue to be grateful, even in the most trying times, knowing we are loved by God without conditions, as much as he did the very first time, in Calvary.
With gratitude in my heart, Happy Easter!