“‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ gave way–here is the heart of the story–to ‘But into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Jesus handed himself over to the God who was not there. And found God there. In trusting the One who was not there, Jesus was resurrected…” –James Carroll, from Practicing Catholic
Sometimes, this is what it feels like to be a Catholic–like handing myself over to nothing. Handing myself over, but with hope for some future resurrection.
In his autobiography, James Carroll writes the lines quoted above amidst a story about one of his mentors, American poet Allen Tate. As a young seminarian Carroll visited Tate at his home, finding upon his arrival that one of Tate’s infant children choked and died in his crib only a week earlier. Tate’s Catholic priest refused the infant a Catholic funeral, as the child died unbaptized and because, according to Tate, the child’s father was a “bad” Catholic. The young Carroll was dismayed by the circumstances, and did his best to respond to his mentor with compassion and the message of a loving and unceasingly welcoming God.
In this quote, Carroll is telling his friend who God is–who Jesus is. I can only imagine that Tate, this grieving father, could relate to Carroll’s description of Jesus, for Tate was also a human encountering the absence of God and the difficulty of handing oneself over the to this very real experience of despair.
When I read stories like Tate’s I am angered by the cruelties committed in the name of Catholicism. I face these representations of the Church, and I think, “God is not there.” –Yet, Catholicism is my faith?
I also read about men and women like Carroll, though, and I remember why I still believe in Catholicism’s resurrection. I am challenged to believe that God even brings resurrection to places and people that seem to be without God. I am reminded that I still experience the same strange paradox of Jesus’ experience–and Tate’s experience: I have handed myself over to the God who was not always there–not always in Catholicism. Yet I still find God there, in Catholicism.
It is comforting to know this strange reality belongs to more than just me.