It was an agonizing week in our close-knit community.
On the vigil of the Assumption, the 6-year-old son of a beautiful young couple in our neighborhood suffered a trauma and hovered by a thread in the sacred space between life and death for five days before succumbing the following Sunday.
It had been a long slog of hoping and praying for the best but bracing for the worst and we were all so broken-hearted over the loss of an exceptionally sweet little boy and for the unimaginable pain of our friends.
I can’t speak for the parents, now shouldering a burden I can’t pretend to understand, but for me at least these days of deep sorrow came intertwined with certain graces. In particular I was deeply moved and edified by the sheer goodness of so many people in response to the terrible news.
More than one former neighbor who’d moved away reported being asked independently by strangers to pray for our friends through prayer chains. The news went like lightning around the country and around the world. After evening Mass on the Feast of the Assumption, some 30 or so neighbors came for a rosary that had been announced as a last-minute suggestion on a list serve. I’d thought on short notice only one or two might make it.
Perhaps I was just swept up in emotion, but during that rosary you could almost physically feel the intensity of prayer and love enveloping the family.
Our pastor visited the hospital room twice daily to pray and just be with the family. Their little son was by turns anointed, Confirmed, and given his First Communion, to the everlasting gratitude and consolation of his folks.
The family’s closest friends went to visit them in the hospital. One friend arranged child-care for her own kids and traveled from out of town to stay with the parents during the long vigil at their son’s bedside to be sure they were sleeping and eating. Another supervised visits. There was a nearly continuous vigil of prayer in the parish and in the hospital waiting room and in everyone’s living rooms. People took turns bringing meals to the grandparents serving as care-givers for the siblings and the accumulating out of town family. They picked relatives up at the airport, offered their guest rooms, took up a collection to defray unexpected funeral and travel expenses and crowded the wake and funeral.
I don’t know how to convey the spirit in which all of this was done. It’s as if the community was united in one heart and mind for those several days.
And that is to say nothing of the impressive courage, fortitude, love and faith that eyewitnesses reported from the hospital room during the ordeal. “Weakness is sown; strength rises up,” say the scriptures. Visitors came away saying things like, “I am proud to know this couple” or “it was a privilege to be in their presence at this time and see them in action.”
In short, we have all been witness at some level to something painful and terrible but also holy: to the mystery of the cross and to an extraordinary outpouring of love and care and grace. If you ask me about the intensity of love with which the first Christians lived, I think I’ve seen it.
It set me to thinking about the contrast between what Christianity actually does when it is lived and the way we Christians present it in the media, social and otherwise.
I wish there were some way to translate this experience—to somehow reveal to our secular age the internal dynamic of Christianity and its remarkable power to unify, uplift, ennoble and console.
I wish there were a way of transmitting not the defensive, cheap-shot Christianity which is seemingly always angry with people for not having the faith we Christians received as a gift, but instead the tender yet muscular flesh and blood Christianity I experienced in my community that terrible week.