There are times when the juxtaposition of Sacred Scripture in the Liturgy and events around the world penetrates my heart so deeply it can take hours to embrace.
Today has been such a time.
The day of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul was several months before I entered the seminary and I was working in the office of a company which has dozens of engineers of the Islamic faith working in the same office with me.
I had been out of the office when the news first flashed around the globe. Returning to my office I knew something was amiss, the atmosphere was heavy with grief.
One of the engineers, a practicing Muslim, came up to me in tears and said:
“ They have shot our Pope! “
I will confess that on 9/11, and for several days thereafter, it was difficult to recall that man’s face and voice with the same solidarity and affection there had been between us that May day in 1981.
Today – at least for those participating in Sunday Mass in the Roman Rite for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time – but accessible to anyone who goes to the Old Testament, Proverbs 31:10-31 – the Lord places before us the description of the ideal wife.
One of the two women who has occupied my heart today with the same intensity, frankly, as my sense of solidarity with my Muslim brother that fateful day in 1981, has been shown throughout the day on the news.
She was a wife. She is now a widow. She tried to become a personal weapon of mass destruction.
I have no idea of her name but am pierced to the heart with the sadness of her eyes, the immensity of the contradiction in her person, my concern for her protection, for she is now in the hands of the authorities.
Again and again and again, starting with Jordanian television, those eyes have stared, sometimes directly at the camera, or her captors, but mostly to one side, as if asking: how have I, woman, come to this?
Eyes of woman, my sister, yes.
As priest, she is also my daughter.
Eyes of one capable of bearing life.
Eyes of one wearing a weapon of destruction wrapped around her womb and heart.
This is the madness of extremism – the Alice in wonderland quality of the culture of terror, where everything is in the vortex of death and turned upside down.
I trust that the intelligentsia, who have spent the last few decades arguing the so-called ‘right’ of a woman to have control over her own body, don’t miss the fact that for this woman that meant simultaneous control of a bomb.
She and her husband deliberately chose a wedding – a celebration of new beginning in life and family – as a killing field.
Jesus teaches us the great love is to lay down one’s life to save another, not to destroy life.
The sadness in the eyes of the woman shown on Jordanian tv may be because she failed.
Or maybe, please God, it is the realization that she who was created in the image and likeness of the Giver of Life to bear new life within her, having walked through the looking glass of hate is now in the upside down world of terror and destruction.
Any rationale thinking human being must see that we have so distorted religion and gender that even women of Islam can strap bombs around their wombs and over their hearts.
Yet in a way this is not that unlike their Christian sisters who rip from their wombs and hearts the life already growing within them.
Proverbs notes how the husband of the “worthy wife….entrusts his heart to her”…and from there the text lauds woman as strong, charitable, not merely intelligent but wise.
Indeed, based on this text, the reputation of her husband has more to do with her standing in the community than any efforts of his.
Bad enough when men were the prime agents of violence on this earth but then we started taking steps in the wars of the past century where women became soldiers, front line troops in Russia, China, and in the Resistance movements.
Then came the various revolutions in Asia and more women learnt to kill, and through the seduction of the narcissistic culture of the Western world it came about that women no longer needed to go to a battlefield any further than their own bodies to kill.
Around the same time men began, first in Africa and then in Asia, to force boys to become child-soldiers.
It seems we have succeeded essentially in transforming ‘family’: father, mother, children, the foundation of society and living stones of the church, into units of death.
Pope Leo XIII, it is said, was granted a vision of the future and the forthcoming wars of human destruction horrified him.
It is said of St. Pius X in the weeks prior to the outbreak of WWI he wept openly over the oceans of blood he foresaw.
Pope Paul VI tried heroically in Humane Vitae to warn of the chaos which would engulf the human family in the darkness of the contraceptive self-indulgent culture of death.
Pope John Paul II begged us to embrace the Gospel of Life.
So I turn to the other woman on my heart today.
I believe only if we turn to her, ask her to take us by the hand and bring us to Jesus, He who is the Way, back through the looking glass of our narcissistic arrogance, will we emerge from the backwards, upside down culture of death into the civilization of love: with Christ, in Christ, for Christ and through Him return to the Father:
Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence, we fly to you, O Virgin of Virgins, Our Mother.
To you do we come, before you we stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer us.