Sunday, February 12th, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Her name was Shannon; this teenager who asked to speak with me.  At the time, she was an in-patient at a local hospital and in the psychiatric ward.  I was pastor at St. Jude Parish in Redmond at the time.  She was hospitalized due to deliberately cutting herself.  I had never heard of this, but soon learned how prevalent it is, especially among girls.  Shannon would cut herself to release the inner psychic pain.  It brought momentary relief, but the guilt and shame would compound the situation; the psychic and emotional pain deepening.

She wanted to talk since she found my homilies helpful.  She’d listen to every word.  Somehow, they brought to her life a glimmer of hope; shards of light despite the cutting darkness.

The psychiatric ward of this hospital was situated at a distance; at the very edge of the complex.  When I entered, the furniture was worn, the place rather depressing.  It felt like a punishment.  I thought, “How can anyone heal in such an environment?”  I recall the lepers and those possessed in the gospels, how they were made to live at a distance; shut-up and in desert places.  The stigma of mental illness continues.   I waited for Shannon in a small room with walls of glass.  She entered and I noticed how her hair hung in her face, as though she did not want to be seen.  Slowly, she opened and talked about the cutting.  From the outside she had everything going for her:  4.0 GPA, rower on a select team, violinist in a youth symphony, and with a lovely, quiet face.  Inside, however, it was a different scene altogether.  An unravelling was occurring and that had plunged her into a void.   She believed in God and it was this belief that kept her from taking her life which she had been tempted to do.  To do that, she felt, would cut her off from God for all eternity.  And she dreaded that more than the pain inside.  I was moved by the depth of such faith, though I don’t believe God would condemn her   if that were to happen (though I did not tell her that).  Because of Christ’s own desolation on the cross, there is this immense empathy within God’s heart for the kind of pain Shannon faced inside and that would bleed into a harsh and unforgiving light.

There’s not enough space or time to continue the story, but it has a happy ending.    Fast forward to Our Lady of the Lake; to where I was when Shannon visited me.  Her hair pulled back and out of her face, she was smiling.  She looked alive, radiant, resurrected!    It’s like the gospel message this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time when Jesus urges us “To let our light shine”; that “No one lights a lamp, then puts it under a bushel basket.” (Matthew 5: 13-16)  Shannon was letting her light shine, and I felt grateful to God and so happy for her.  It brightened my day.

Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says:  “The eye is the lamp of the body.   If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22)  It’s how we see ourselves and each other that brings us into the light or not.  Often we focus on those dark aspects, making life even gloomier than need be.    It’s this that saddened me when listening to President Trump’s Inaugural Address: a rather dark scenario painted with words.  Yes, life can be dark, but sometimes this darkness is of our own making.  As followers of Christ, we must believe in the light within us.  Each sunrise proclaims belief in such light.  Yet, we cling to what is dark, within ourselves and in each other. 

May we learn to believe in the light and so pull away from what obscures our vision; to let the light   shine.  I recall those words scratched on a prison wall in a Nazi death camp and discovered after the War:  “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining…”  May such belief brighten our lives and deepen our belief in the One who is God from God, and Light from Light.

Father Tim Clark, Pastor


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