“A sword will pierce your heart.” – Luke 2:35 Graphic by David Chen

Bridging power and vulnerability

  • September 1, 2016

Walking home from the grocery store, I heard a wild cry on the street behind me. A young man had ripped open his car door, slammed it again with a thundering metallic crash, then simply stood and roared like a lion. Seeing that no one was in danger, I walked on. Another roar came, with a richly voiced four-letter epithet, and another crash-slammed door. The counterpoint of raw emotion continued for a while — door-slamming, wordless roaring, life-searing oaths. Even at a distance, I felt it. Whatever that young man was expelling into the atmosphere, something in me resonated.

There’s a wild fierce energy in us all. I don’t know what enflamed the young man, nor have I expressed myself in quite that way. But I recognized the raging river.

Such torrents are often in evidence in young adults. Their inner tumult comes out — or gets tucked away inside — in all sorts of ways. Is it worthwhile for their parents and others to try to direct and guide that raging river? Will the river simply cascade or rage in its own way, while those who care for them can only prepare for it and then watch from a distance?

I’ve heard many parents wrestle with this question in different ways. Christian parents agonize: “How do I help them meet the world, and equip them to help the world they meet?” And, a little deeper, “How do I direct and guide my children’s hunt for God?”

Youth wrestle with it, too. They may have a sense of alienation, even betrayal, from parents or authorities. Our kids are a mix, longing to be free of family and social problems, but also longing for parental love and community protection, and keenly so in this era of anxiety. Some young people are slashed with serious family wounds that, as children, they carried for and with their parents or elders. Some are simply discovering their own river within, which seems to need to destroy and overflow its banks, even as it equally aches to find and follow an unknown channel.

Our youth are encountering the “hole in the soul” — in a world where so many false antidotes are eager to fill that hole for them, and be paid for the “service.” To whom, or to what, can youth look for support? Where do they find pure water for their unquenchable thirst?

Age-old questions, but painfully concrete and urgent in our day.

The Church asks us all to face this complex, difficult world with tools that at times seem woefully inadequate: love, trust, sacrifice, faith, hope. Prayer. This approach can seem about as foolish as standing naked and blindfolded before an advancing army — especially when it’s the well-being of our own young we’re responsible for. We’ve seen the forces arrayed against them, which we may or may not have conquered ourselves. We want something solid and powerful for our kids. And maybe they want the same from us.

A centuries-old Church tradition, celebrated Sept. 15, is the image of the Mother of Sorrows: a heart pierced by seven swords. This title for Mary refers to the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:35), reminding us that saying “Yes” to life opens us to sorrows that rend the heart. We can (and unfortunately do) use such images to deify pain, making the mistake of thinking that suffering redeems, or that God is happy when we are miserable. No. Christ redeems, and “the glory of God is the human fully alive” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons). But the one who says “Yes” to God is asked to love in a new way, a way of great power but also of great vulnerability and, inevitably, great suffering.

The roaring young man on the street was experiencing the encounter between power and vulnerability, and not very happily. Did he know, will he discover, will he need someone to help him see that this encounter is one of God’s favourite places to meet us?

Isaiah’s Man of Sorrows knows our hearts. And all seven of the traditional Catholic sword-sorrows that pierced Mary’s heart came about because of her child.

Pascal Pingault, founder of the Pain de Vie community, once described to me the helplessness he felt when he was taken into the hospital room of a terribly disfigured youth who did not move or speak. After sitting silently with him awhile, my friend, unable to help, and unable at that moment to speak either, groaned loudly. The youth groaned loudly back from his bed. They groaned together. For a while, they shared this unwritten song back and forth between them. Their eyes met. Something changed in both.

Were they tapping into the same raging river? Did the older man’s willingness to let his heart be pierced — yet again — help the young one?

“A sword will pierce your heart” (Luke 2:35). It’s not the failure, but the triumph, of the cross (Sept. 14).

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.)