1 Peter 3:15As I have been reflecting on the the events of my previous week these words of St. Peter came to mind. I could not help but think of how quickly I moved from a moment of contentment in God’s presence to the chaotic moments of tragedy and sadness. On Wednesday, February 23rd I went to bed well pleased with the success of our Parish Mission with Fr. Frank Sutman, our visiting preacher for the previous four days. On Thursday morning, I was awakened to fire alarms and the shocking experience of a man whose clothes caught fire while lighting a votive candle in the church. On Wednesday night, I was aware of the peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit who guided us through our days of renewal, on Thursday I searched for God amidst the horror.
Fr. Frank’s mission talks were based upon the questions we ask of God and our faith. Fr. Frank had not yet left our rectory on Thursday morning and we were confronted with new questions. Where was God on Thursday? How could God let this happen? One of the questions Fr. Frank asked during his talks was, “Does a fish know it’s in water?” The answer being, “no” a fish is not actively aware of its immersion in water. In the same way we are always “in” God, and are not aware of it. When times of tragedy occur, we ask, “Where is God?” without being aware of the truth that if we were not already in God we would not be able to endure the painful experiences of life.
It was clear to me that we were “in God” during the days of retreat. Upon further reflection, I can see a little more clearly that Mr. Badalamente and all of us were “in God” throughout the accidental tragedy. Vito was given excellent and comforting care from the moment Fr. Henry extinguished the flames, to the first responders, and to the doctors and nurses in the burn unit, who eased his pain. He was surrounded by his prayerful and loving family and in God’s great mercy he quietly and peacefully passed from this life. Our parish community was most certainly “in God” through the guiding and assuring presence of the police and fire departments. Our parish staff navigated through a difficult day, continuing to serve the needs of our community. And the people of the parish sought to bring all of us who were directly involved, consolation and support. In a very significant way, Vito’s family also helped us to be “in God,” through the gratitude they have expressed and their willingness to allow us to pray with them.
The media presence, certainly added to the anxiety and pain of the day. It was harder for me to see the presence of God in their parasitic behavior. A member of our staff helped me to reflect more deeply on this aspect, however. In their relentlessness, the media, placed before us the words of 1 Peter. They wanted a reason for hope. Amidst the tragedy, they wanted there to be a hope that the injuries were survivable because a priest had saved him. There was hope for Vito not because a priest had come to his rescue at the moment of a tragic accident, there was everlasting hope for him because throughout his life, the church had come to his aid with the presence of Jesus Christ, who came so we might have eternal life. Vito came to church that day because amidst the sadness of missing his wife throughout these years he had hoped that she was “in God” eternally and that he too was “in God” until they could be together again.
There are times when it is easier to know that we are “in God” and times when it is more challenging. Through the grace of hope, we are given the ability to know that we are “in God” in both joy and sorrow.