Early last week I had a good conversation with one of our public leaders I consider as a bright light and one of the hopes of the next generation. We were, as expected, discussing the different phenomena we witnessed in the last elections.
I shared what my novice master told us about the kind of leader we ought to emulate: soft outside, steel inside. We agreed it is what our country needs.
Then a question came, who would I consider fits the description? Without missing a beat I said, “Jesus Christ.” Jokingly the retort was, “lower, lower.” I paused, thought then said, “Pope Francis.”
I remembered the Pope in UST in January 2015 embracing the two kids after the young girl broke down as she was asking the age old question of why evil existed.
Today’s Gospel reminds me of this conversation. Christ in today’s story of the Widow of Nain eloquently expresses this virtue.
William Barclay, renowned scripture scholar, considers this story as the loveliest in the Gospels where the experience of the “pathos and the poignancy of human life” comes face to face with the divine compassion in Christ.
James Martin, SJ, referring to the narrative of the death and raising of Lazarus, describes the experience of death as the deepest human pain meeting the divine hope.
There is a third story in the Gospels of Christ that I wish to add. In the Agony in the Garden, Christ’s “softness” is shown in full. He expresses his own struggle and pain in the face of his impending death.
It is in the “softness” and breaking point that we see the steel inside, the source of his strength—his loving obedience to his Father’s will.
As we have reflected previously, compassion is the ability to enter the chaos of the other person and—with and in this chaos—accompany the person in the journey towards meaning and integrity.
The widow’s loss with the death of her son is one of the greatest pains. I often hear at wakes and funerals that the greatest pain of a parent is to have to bury a child. And it is double whammy for this mother, she is also a widow.
In the midst of this chaos and pain, Christ enters and not only gives meaning, hope and life to the widow and to her son, but to all of us. Here Christ shows that he is not only the Lord of life, but also the Lord of death. In Christ, our lives are radically transformed with this knowledge that life does not end in death.
This is what makes his Cross and Resurrection the central saving mystery and grace in our life. Because of this we are able to say, what he has done we can follow.
Postscript: Let me end with a story, a rather uncomfortable one to tell. Last Thursday, I celebrated the final novena Mass for the Feast of the Sacred Heart in the national shrine.
As in most public Masses I celebrate, it was common for a few people to come up for a blessing after the Mass. I would pray over them: “May the Risen Lord stay with you and make your heart burn within you that you may come to know him at the breaking of bread.”
Before I knew it, there was long line, three abreast waiting to be prayed over. I never felt so humbled. Having struggled with my own shortcomings and sinfulness the past weeks—but this is another reflection altogether for another time—it was a most humbling experience.
I thought, “Why me? Guys, you got it all wrong. I am probably more sinful than most if not all of you.” This was running through my mind.
But I stopped being self-conscious and prayed to God, “Okay, let us do this. You’ve got to come and use me. Channel your grace for these people. Use me if it is you plan.” Then I lost all sense of self-consciousness and simply seemed to be present to the person before me, praying with her/him for a few moments.
At that moment, we were, together in prayer, soft outside, steel inside.