Surveying earthquake destruction in Syria (OSV News photo/courtesy of Caritas Syria)

Healing the broken breeds new strength

  • March 16, 2023

For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror.

1 Corinthians 13: 12

I had the pleasure recently of attending an international conference for Catholic post-secondary presidents, and I was inspired by the range and reach of the work we do to bring the joy of faith to the community through the critical lens of education. 

One speaker, however, framed her comments by using an image of a cracked window as a metaphor for our broken world. She spoke of the fractures that permeate our societies, the fragility of peace surprisingly few of us experience and the need for us to focus our vision on the wholeness rather than the brokenness of our collective vision.

As she spoke, I thought again of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery using gold lacquer which leaves the work stronger than it was before the break. I have used the metaphor to speak of those broken by addiction and the mending as an example of the healing that can take place when our society reaches out and provides the assistance needed for those who are struggling to put their lives back together. 

We can’t deny the metaphor of brokenness also applies to our community at large: those battling homelessness, our Ukrainian compatriots fighting an unjust war, our brothers and sisters struggling against natural disasters such as we have seen in Turkey and Syria most recently. And they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Closer to home we have also witnessed another epidemic, which is the after effects of COVID on a generation of young people — an impact that has dramatically transformed their experience of education in the classroom. Those of us who work in this area have seen a marked struggle by our youth to recover from the COVID aftershocks. 

In the early days of the pandemic, we spoke of getting through this so we could return to normal. We now realize the world we have emerged into is not the one we occupied before. Our society, our relationships, our ability to relate have all been changed by the pandemic. Schools, colleges and universities are seeing an unprecedented need to provide staff and students with mental health support.

It is more important than ever that we find ways to reconnect, to mend the breakages with bonds that leave us stronger than before. Our faith life is surely one such bonding agent — a glue that can hold the broken pieces together. The speaker I cited earlier noted the word Catholic is often referenced as meaning universal, which is certainly true. But she pointed out that within the Greek etymology of the word is holos, meaning wholeness. Our faith life is about togetherness, completion, unity: with each other and of course with God. This grounding force is one we should lean on and draw comfort from. Yes, we can be broken, but through prayer and faith, education and goodness, we can repair and strengthen our broken selves. 

My favourite translation of 1 Corinthians comes from the poetic King James Bible: “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” invoking the antiquated word for a mirror, and more: the de-silvering of old mirrors that grew dark with age which here stands for our imperfect human reason. Through faith, however, the mirror brightens, and eventually we will come to see God “face to face.”

There is no question that many forces cloud the mirror: grief, anger, fear and doubt. The world roils under natural disasters, and worse, human-made catastrophes. It is hard at times to see ourselves reflected back as we would wish ourselves to be. The glass, indeed, seems irredeemably cracked, irreparably darkened. And yet that is one promise that our faith assures us — through our commitment to God we will be made whole. 

In one of the many versions of the popular hymn, “Amazing Grace,” there is a line that confuses some: “He will my shield and portion be.” Here, portion, which means a piece, actually means a whole, as we learn in Psalm 73: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” God is one part of our whole; or, put another way, we are whole because we are a part of Him. And so the cracks can be filled, the breakages mended, and through faith, we can be stronger than before.

(Turcotte is President and Vice-Chancellor at St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College, University of British Columbia.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.