January 11, 2018

To sink, or to dance

By Elizabeth Kelly *
Jesus saves Peter from sinking / Public Domain
Jesus saves Peter from sinking / Public Domain

My friend, I’ll call her “Veronica,” goes for the spiritual jugular, so to speak. It’s almost as if she avails herself to God and says, “All right, Lord, give me the toughest assignment you’ve got. Spare me no challenge.” 

As an example, when she and her husband decided to adopt a child, they opted for the most difficult arrangement currently available in our state: from foster care to adoption. It is a process fraught with uncertainty and agonizing tedium. The bureaucracy alone would put off most people of a lesser constitution. In all likelihood she and her husband will be caring for a child who has suffered a great deal of trauma and might have any number of spiritual, physical, and psychological needs beyond the ordinary, wounds that may take a long time, perhaps a lifetime, to mend. The process might take years, or worse, even after years of physical and emotional investment might not come to fruition at all. 

All parenting involves a great deal of sacrifice and selflessness, a kind of patience and tenacity of spirit to suffer the pains of forming a unique, unrepeatable, little human, body and soul. But somehow the willingness to take on this method to becoming a parent ratchets up that sacrifice to new and inspiring levels in my mind. 

But that’s just who Veronica is. She’s fearless when it comes to the hard realities. She worked in a poor part of the world where life was rather precarious for a woman on her own and she suffered the daily toils that come with such an existence – even the little things, like having to wash her hair in a sink of cold water – in order to help girls get an education. She spent years working on the front lines of the pro-life movement, tirelessly knocking on the doors of legislators trying to educate them about any number of complex issues. In a particular apostolate of which she is a member, she deliberately chooses the assignments that others will not take – the harder ones, the ones that don’t even occur to others.

Veronica’s is a compelling and credible Catholicism because it is uninterested in tidy consolations or platitudes. If someone wanted to give her a “humanitarian award,” she’d laugh and think it an absurdity. Her life quietly, mostly anonymously, burns with the authentic desire to care for those who cannot care for themselves – but it is a supernatural fire, not one stoked by a desire for rewards or recognition, or even a sense of self-worth. 

Her faith walks her into the tender, dark underbelly of the beastly human condition without fear and asks in all earnestness and without the slightest condescension or pretension, “How can I help?” She burns on out of an uncommon and holy valor that I know has been fed and formed in Christ’s Church.

Peter’s faith was big and beautiful and imperfect. When Jesus invited him out onto the sea, he lasted a while – dear fellow, our rock – at least a few steps before the dark world and fear overtook him, and look what the Lord did through him. 

In my mind, I see Christ calling Veronica out onto that same sea. But she doesn’t sink at the sight of the storm and the crashing waves. No, she dances.

Jesus, may we be bold, convicted, and without self-interest or false piety, take your compassion to every dark and difficult corner of the human experience. 

Elizabeth Kelly is an award-winning speaker and the author of six books, including including Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom and Joy from the Women of the New Testament. She is trained as a spiritual director in the Ignatian exercises and leads retreats with a particular focus on helping women to flourish in their faith. She teaches in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (MN). Her website is: www.emkbooks.com.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.